Spirituality is at the very core of our nature as human beings and encompasses many things - a quest for deeper meaning, a sense of wider belonging, a need for wholeness and completeness, and interaction with our fellow human beings, our community and the world at large.
Spirituality encompasses what we believe about ourselves, the world, the universe, the possible existence of a greater or higher power; the very nature and meaning of existence, and life and death itself.
Spirituality can be and is often linked to a wide range of known and organised religions, but can also be expressed and practiced in a myriad of different ways by each person. It may not necessarily involve any religion or recognition of a conventional god or higher power at all.
The diagnosis of a potentially life threatening blood cancer such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma can be the cause of major distress and upheaval in almost every area of a person’s life, whether it be physical, emotional, psychological, practical and spiritual. People are often faced with a sudden and overwhelming sense of their own mortality and vulnerability, which can in turn lead to a sense of profound spiritual distress.
In this situation, many find great comfort or reassurance in turning to or investigating new spiritual belief systems, whether based in organised religion or not, in a search for meaning or deeper understanding of their illness and its implications in the greater context of their life.
Some people find themselves instinctively returning to a spiritual belief system or faith that they may have practiced previously, but have not connected with in recent years before their diagnosis, but now find it has new significance, value and meaning to them in the context of their illness.
Others may find it can lead them to question and even doubt their previous spiritual beliefs and react with fear, confusion and anger, asking “why did this happen to me?” or “what did I do to deserve this?”
For many people, a spiritual experience can be contained within the simplest of everyday events; the loving touch of a hand, the scent of a flower, the loving gaze of the family pet, conversations and reflections with family and friends. It can result from love, or from experiencing food, music, art. It can be found in the sound of a child’s laughter, the sight of a sunrise, or the sound and smell of the ocean. The list is endless and each of these experiences can, whilst seeming possibly inconsequential to others, hold a deep and real spiritual significance for individuals. They may not be part of a broader belief system or spiritual faith, but can still hold real spiritual value for the person in question.
Many people diagnosed with cancer often describe a deeper or heightened sense of spiritual awareness as a result of their illness. Many also find within themselves spiritual characteristics, strengths and qualities that they were previously unaware of. Many others often find new depth and quality in their interpersonal relationships and often describe the cancer journey as also a “spiritual journey”.
A sense of faith or spirituality can help people to find meaning in their illness, move beyond physical pain and suffering, conquer their fears and find hope. It also leads many people to consider the nature and purpose of their existence, the physical life, its possible end and the legacy they may leave behind.
Many people diagnosed with a type of blood cancer will almost certainly need to seek some form of emotional, psychological or spiritual care or support throughout the course of their illness and treatment. This need extends not only to the person who has been diagnosed, but to their immediate caregivers, family and close friends.
Emotional support and spiritual care of people with cancer and their families can take many forms and come from many different sources, but often includes the expression of real compassion, presence, objective and non-judgmental listening, empathy, understanding, counseling, patient / carer support groups, meditation, prayer, other religion specific spiritual practices or rituals. It can also include referral to more specialist spiritual support services, e.g. pastoral care, chaplains, grief and bereavement counseling, social workers, counselors or psychologists.