Cancer and Religion

“Why me?”

This is a common question after the delivery of bad news, especially with something as life changing as a cancer diagnosis. Coping with cancer is not easy. There has also never been a manual written with absolute, specific directions on how to cope with being diagnosed with cancer. Some people turn to their family and friends for support, while other turn to religion and prayer.

Shirley Corder, a former nurse and breast cancer survivor, said, "People with a firm belief in God cope far better with adversity than those who don't. Those with a true faith will find comfort through prayer and in the knowledge that others are praying for them.”

In a study of cancer patients at the University of Michigan Medical Center, 93% claimed their faith increased their ability to be hopeful," Corder said. "In another study, 231 end-stage cancer patients were given a choice of 28 options concerning what most maintained their quality of life. The most common response was their relationship with God."

Constant Faith

However, not everybody's faith increases after being diagnosed with cancer. Author and current cancer patient Harvey Gould said he didn't become more religious after being diagnosed with cancer, but that his resilience in fighting the disease has come from his religious upbringing.

"Living with cancer did not make me become more religious in any formalistic way and my coping has been more through my wife’s love and strength than through attendance at religious services-- and my wife is Irish Catholic," Gould said. "However, a primary underlying value of my faith— that life is a God-given creation that shouldn’t be wasted—emerged in me with a renewed strength. That conviction combined with my love for my wife and that I don’t want to leave her prematurely impels me to undergo procedures I’d not otherwise be willing to endure. And here I remain, twelve years post diagnosis, still reveling in the gift of life and the love of my wife."


Others, such as Canadian Visual Artist Robert Brooks, feel religion shouldn't even be part of a cancer discussion. Brooks' father died of cancer when he was a teenager and he said he believes religion and prayer do not help during the healing and coping processes of cancer.

"Religion makes things worse. Always. It gives you a false sense of security," Brooks said.

Brooks went on to cite an article from the New York Times that covered a study conducted on the actual power of prayer in 2006.

"Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found. And patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, the researchers suggested," NY Times Reporter Benedict Carey said in his 2006 article.

The relationship between a cancer patient and his religion varies from person to person. Some people become more religious after being diagnosed with cancer, while others show no change in level of devotion. Meanwhile, others believe religion and prayer only make things worse for cancer patients. What are your thoughts? Do you believe people tend to become more/less religious after being diagnosed with cancer? Are religion and prayer helpful or detrimental for cancer patients and their families? Let us know by commenting and sharing with the MCA community on Facebook and Twitter.