If you’re a combat vet, you probably remember that there are no atheists in foxholes. That may or may not be true when the battlefield shifts from the Khe Sanh Valley to the mesothelioma surgery center.
But what is true is this: the closer to God you feel, the better off you’ll be in the thick of your mesothelioma fight. Science now says so.
Several new studies find that cancer patients — not exclusively mesothelioma patients — who believe in God or in a higher power tend to exhibit fewer or less severe physical symptoms of the disease, have stronger support networks and are more optimistic about survival.
One of these studies was published in a recent issue of the journal Cancer. It examined the religiosity and spirituality of more than 32,000 adult cancer patients — again, not all were mesothelioma patients.
These patients were identified by researchers after combing through 2,073 abstracts. Each abstract was independently evaluated by researchers working in pairs.
The researchers concluded that doctors and hospitals ought to take into account each patient’s religious or spiritual status in order to help devise more successful treatment plans.
“These results underscore the importance of attending to patients’ religious and spiritual needs as part of comprehensive cancer care,” the researchers wrote.
Mesothelioma Patients Uplifted by Faith
One of the studies was conducted by researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. Another was conducted at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, also is tied to the research.
The researchers tended to find that going to church, praying or meditating did not in and of themselves have an effect on patients’ physical health. Rather, the physical health benefits come in part from the effect those activities have on a patient’s beliefs, attitudes and outlook.
“A sense of connection to a being larger than oneself was associated with better physical function and fewer, or less severe, symptoms of cancer or treatment,” they wrote.
The opposite was true as well. Cancer patients filled with fatalistic beliefs, attitudes of fear or anger, and a pessimistic outlook tended to experience poorer health.
The researchers acknowledged that some patients blame God for their suffering. This, they said, often leads to spiritual distress. In turn, spiritual distress leads to greater depression. Poorer health follows.
One reason spiritually distressed patients tend to be in poorer health is that their depression discourages them from following doctor’s orders.
By disregarding care instructions, depressed patients sabotage their ability to wage the best fight possible against the cancer.
Faith Attracts Friends and Social Support
Another advantage of having faith in the midst of a cancer fight is that believers tend to have lots of caring friends from church, temple, mosque or the local spirituality center. These friendships often translate into abundant social support.
“Spiritual well being, having a benevolent image of God, and holding religious beliefs were all associated with social health, regardless of demographics like age, race or gender,” the researchers wrote.
“Spirituality may enhance positive emotion such as love, forgiveness, and comfort, and reduce stress,” they added.
So there you have it. You are in the fight of your life against mesothelioma. It’s all-out war.
You may have said it once long ago, crouching in a foxhole or bomb crater, but you might as well say it again now on the operating room table: “Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition.”
The science indicates it can help.