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Sharing your Faith

Posted 8/16/2013

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  I am stunned to realize that I don't think I have ever written before about faith or beliefs. That fact, in and of itself, is an excellent example of the usually-unspoken discomfort about talking about religion and spirituality. In my defense, I do often have private conversations with individual women in my office about what each of us believes, and I am totally comfortable with those talks. It does seem as though, at least in New England liberal circles (which I fully realize are not representative of the country or the world) that we are more comfortable talking about sex and even money than about religion. It would be easy to hide behind some explanation of not wanting to be intrusive, but I suspect it has much more to do with individual qualms.

  It has been my observation, actually my two observations, over the thirty plus years of doing my work that 1) everyone who is diagnosed with cancer (and, presumably, any potentially life-threatening illness) gives some thought to God, and 2) people who have a belief system, whatever it is, have a slightly easier time with illness and even with dying.

  I am thinking about this because of this article from Cure Today about sharing your faith with your medical caregivers. I know, because I have heard it, that people do sometimes talk with their doctors about faith and about God, but I suspect it does not happen all that often in big Boston teaching hospitals. In contrast, I know it happens all the time in St Alberts Mission Hospital in Zimbabwe (and more about that in later posts), so surely some of the reticence is due to the individual and much if due to the culture and context. I found this essay very interesting and hope that you do, too. Here is the start; I am unable to attach a link, so please email me (hhill@bidmc.harvard.edu) if you want the whole article, and I will send it along.

Should You Share Your Faith with Your Medical Team?
BY STACY LIPSON
For some patients, faith plays an important part in how they cope with treatment
and recovery, but whether it extends to the exam room depends on many factors.
About six months before her diagnosis, 22-year-old Reagan Barnett realized there was a possibility she might have cancer. While her
symptoms had been troublesome, Barnett’s age made it difficult for doctors to consider cancer as her final diagnosis. But she began
preparing herself emotionally and spiritually, which made the diagnosis of stage 2 colon cancer easier to receive.
“I feel like my faith prepared me for cancer,” Barnett says, which is why she
wanted her medical team to understand the role spirituality would play in her
recovery.
In the beginning, it was difficult for her to find appropriate support services at
her initial hospital. So when it came to time to decide where to have surgery,
Barnett made it a priority to look for a surgeon with a background in religion.
Although Barnett’s doctor prayed with her family before her total colectomy, she
found it was easier, as the patient, to discuss her religious beliefs with an outside
friend who was a pastor.

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