The effect of a Christian-based support group on the emotional health of cancer survivors and caregivers
Karen Tripp1 MS LMFT
Sarah Kivett1 RN, BSN, OCN, CHPN
1Cancer Companions, Cottleville, MO
INTRODUCTION Clinically significant depression and anxiety have been shown to negatively impact cancer treatment tolerance, quality of life, and overall survivorship. Conversely, scientific literature has demonstrated the stress-buffering effects of religion and spirituality on physiological processes such as reduced cardiovascular reactivity, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activation, and inflammation. These results underscore the importance of attending to patients’ religious and spiritual needs as part of comprehensive cancer care. As such, the purpose of this investigation was to determine if a religious-based support program improves the overall emotional health of individuals who were battling cancer.
METHODS 110 cancer patients, survivors and caregivers were invited to participate in a Christian-based cancer support program through church announcements, personal invitations, website and social media. The program lasted 9 weeks. At the final meeting, participants were asked to complete evaluation forms on the program. Data from the survey was tabulated and group means were calculated.
RESULTS The Christian-based support group had a positive impact on the emotional wellbeing of cancer patients. Of those surveyed, 91% felt that their anxiety had improved or greatly improved throughout the study period. Moreover, depression scores decreased by 79%.
CONCLUSIONS These results underscore the importance of a faith-based program as a component of a comprehensive cancer care plan.
NCCN 2021 Conference Abstract: The effect of a Christian-based support group on the emotional health of cancer survivors and caregivers
The effect of a Christian-based support group on the emotional health of cancer survivors and caregivers
On the hard cancer days, sometimes the dark thoughts of cancer can block our view of Christ.
To battle dark lies, we need a good weapon–the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17) This means that to battle the lies we must think, speak and believe Scripture. We all need some Scriptures for when the lies get into our heads.
Six Great Verses to Battle the Dark Lies: Battle Verse
Write your name in each blank below.
1) You can do all things, _________________, through Him who strengthens you. Philippians 4:13
2) For nothing, ______________________________, will be impossible with God. Luke 1:37
3) What then shall you say to these things, ________________________________?
If God is for you, who is against you? Romans 8:31
4) ________________________________________, is anything too difficult for the LORD? Genesis 18:14
5) …when you are tempted, ________________ ________________, he will provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13b
6) For the Spirit God gave you does not make you timid, ________________________, but gives you power, love and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7
EXCERPT from Finding Hope in Your Cancer Journey
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There is something so God-filled about a Cancer Companions Bible Study group. Whether online or in person, bringing people with a common struggle together- to pray, smile, laugh, cry and look at scripture- creates a powerful bond we can only give credit for to God. But let’s face it. Not everyone can attend a group. This might be due to cancer patients/caregiver’s health, or their personal preference. It could also be due to a Cancer Companion team deciding not to have group meetings. (Church space issues, COVID restraints, lack of technology for online, no available trained Cancer Companions Facilitator.)
Fortunately, in these situations, Cancer Companion volunteers can choose one or more of these 3 simple ways to reach cancer patients/caregivers. We all know small things can be extremely powerful.
Make a Simple Call/Voicemail
Cancer Companion Volunteers reach out to cancer patients/caregivers not so they know about Cancer Companions and how we help. We reach out so they know they are not alone. Cancer isolation can occur in a room full of people. Why?
- We protect those we love.
- We hunger to be seen as strong.
- We withdraw due to fatigue.
- We isolate not knowing who’s willing to hear.
- We struggle to be seen as our true self not our cancer self.
As a Cancer Companion Volunteer, your call shows that you “get it”. You don’t wait for cancer patients/caregivers to ask for help, you simply stay connected so when they need help, they trust you enough to ask.
Do not underestimate the power of a call. Of course, a “call” these days can mean a leaving a voice mail, sending a text, a picture, a gif, an emoji and probably a zillion other things phones can do that I have no clue about. 😊
Cancer Companion Volunteers are typically assigned, NOT requested. When church staff or cancer team hear of a cancer patient/caregiver, a Cancer companion Volunteer is assigned. The call begins by saying “I have been assigned as your Cancer Prayer Partner. I will be praying for you. Here is why I am doing this…” (Your WHY is extremely powerful.) Then ask “What can I pray for you this week?”
Share a Simple Prayer
Let’s think about prayer for a minute:
- Does the power of prayer only work if the person you are paying for knows you are praying? Yes/No?
- Is there an extra blessing in having the person you are praying for hear the prayer, read the prayer or share the prayer? Yes/No?
- Can a person have enough people praying for them? Yes/No?
I’m guessing you know that the answer is Yes to the first question and No to the second and third. These three truths about prayer opens up a GIGANTIC door of ways to pray for a cancer patient/caregiver. A person’s cancer journey needs Cancer Companions Volunteers to strive to do each one of these types of prayers:
- The prayers you say alone.
- The prayers you say with the rest of your Cancer Companions volunteer team.
- The prayers you share for them to have when they need it. (note card, text, email, etc.)
- The prayers you say aloud when you are talking to them. (phone, video call, in person)
Whichever of the above 4 types of prayer you chose to lift up, please, please do so consistently and persistently. You’ll be amazed at how praying for the same topic repeatedly and with passion can change a life- including yours.
Give a Simple Gift
First, I want to say that the calls and the prayers that we mentioned above are magnificent gifts that can feed the needs in cancer patients/caregivers’ hearts.
Yet what if there was a simple gift you could share that held the power of scripture? God’s word has the ability to minister to those coping with cancer in ways only the Spirit understands. If you’re like me, spouting of scriptures is not my gift. So, to assist Cancer Companion Volunteers, we are creating a series of small booklets designed to easily share with cancer patients/caregivers. There will be two versions
- A beautifully printed 8.5 by 5.5 booklet affordable and easily mailed.
- A free pdf file which can be easily attached to an email.
The first booklet for this series is Seeing God in your cancer Journey: Six Devotions on Cancer and Faith. This booklet has the first 6 readings of the 41 readings in the Seeing God in Your Cancer Journey Participant Guide. The booklet is complete with discussion questions so volunteers can have the opportunity to easily discuss the devotions with their assigned cancer patient/caregiver.
The true gift of cancer ministry is meeting the cancer patient/caregiver right where they are. It may be that they are not ready for a Cancer Bible Study Group but that’s OK. God has given us the powerful tools of prayer, scripture and connection to lift up those coping with cancer. Thank you for all of your hard work. You are appreciated!
Excerpt from Finding God in Your Cancer Journey
Where can you go to find hope on a cancer journey?
What a wonderful relief to know this. It’s easy on some days of a cancer walk to see how big Christ is in your life:
“My scan was good.”
“The tumor has shrunk.”
“My doctor is wonderful.”
“I’m amazed at how everyone has been
taking care of me.”
“Did you know that the whole prayer
chain is praying for me?”
Can you think of a time when you knew Jesus showed up on your cancer walk?
Share your response if you would like.
It’s so true. There are so many amazing ways that Jesus can show up in the midst of your cancer walk. This helps us to breathe in our hope in Jesus. But, on some days, cancer looms so big that it can be hard to remember that Jesus Christ is bigger than the darkness of cancer:
“Don’t worry about the money. We’ll figure something out.”
“Why didn’t you go to the doctor sooner?”
“The tumor is growing.”
“I know I haven’t been in touch, but things are so busy.”
“What do you mean, you can’t come to the reunion?”
“You’ll be in some type of treatment for the rest of your life.”
“It’s stage 4.”
“The treatment’s not working.”
“This illness is probably due to the cancer treatment you had 15 years ago.”
“You’ll always have to deal with this side effect of your cancer.”
“You’ll not be able to have children.”
Yuck. It makes my chest hurt just to write that list. Let’s face it- cancer is BIG.
If you remember only one thing from this study, remember this:
Our hope in Christ comes not only from what He does in your life, but from who He is.
Take a moment to remember:
Cancer cannot move Christ – He is closer than your breath.
Cancer cannot dim His power – He is the endless light in your darkness.
Cancer cannot take you from Him – You are the joy that was before Him on the cross.
You are His.
On the hard cancer days, sometimes the dark thoughts of cancer can block our view of Christ.
On the hard days, we have to learn to see what is unseen. This is hope.
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Romans 8:24-25
▶ Circle the word “hope” each time it
appears in the verses above.
▶ How many times does “hope” appear?
▶ What is the last word in these verses?
I love these verses! There’s a lot of hope in there!
These verses push me to hope for more than I can see, and to imagine the blessings Christ has in store for me.
What’s the Cancer Partner Toolbox?
The Cancer Partner Toolbox is a collection of items you will use to interact with your cancer patient/caregiver. Each of these tools and how to use them is discussed in this Cancer Partner Training Manual.
For more information on how to get involved CLICK HERE.
Cancer Partner Tools
To Print/Download article When Cancer Patients Need Their Church CLICK HERE
By Karen Tripp MS LMFT Executive Director, Cancer Companions Ministry
It’s hard to fill a need when you don’t know there is a need. Have you noticed that many newly diagnosed cancer patients tell their church “I’m fine.”?
One reason this happens is that at diagnosis, most cancer patients have little or no symptoms, pain, or even discomfort. They just woke up one morning feeling fine and went to a cancer screening. Or, they have a small symptom, like a persistent cough, which led to a chest X-ray. Then, when the results come back that they have cancer, they are thinking “How can I have cancer? I feel fine.”
So, when the church reaches out to a newly diagnosed cancer patient, it makes sense that the patient says “I’m fine.” Yet, what do we know? We know that on the day a cancer patient is diagnosed, they feel healthier than they probably will for the next 12 months – even if the cancer treatment only lasts 6 months. Why? Because most cancer treatments make you feel worse to help you get better.
The work of the church is not to fix the problems of cancer, but to help the cancer patient and their loved ones focus on the light of Christ more and the darkness of cancer less. From the Christian cancer patients that I have worked with, it seems that though their faith in their salvation is strong, there are times when it is hard to see God in the chaos that is cancer.
Here are four concerns some cancer patients need their church to address so they will not be overwhelmed by their cancer:
Concern #1: Diagnosis
Hearing that you have cancer is a paradigm shift. Before diagnosis, a patient sees their physical, financial, and emotional future pretty clearly. Yet, with the cancer diagnosis, their view can turn into a blur. The list of things they are uncertain about explodes, as cancer brings a whole new list of things they do not know about. At times this limbo can bring worry, frustration, or even fear, making one wonder “What is God up to now?”
The church can help cancer patients see that uncertainty is often part of God’s path. Pillars of the faith – Noah, Abraham, Moses, David – all faced giant times of uncertainty of where their path with the Lord was leading.
As Hebrews 11:1 tells us: Faith is not faith without uncertainty.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
There will be times when cancer patients need to hear that the pressure of uncertainty is not a sign that God is not with them. In truth, the uncertainty is an invitation to focus on God’s certainty.
- “God is certain that you are His beloved child whom He adores.”
- “God is certain that Christ’s sacrifice conquered sin, death and even cancer.”
- “God is certain that He is with you now and forever.”
Concern #2: Treatment Choice
As new treatment options are discovered, oncologists may ask patients “Which of these 2 or 3 treatments would you prefer?” Most of us everyday folks feel unequipped or even overwhelmed to make these complex medical decisions.
The church can help the cancer patient turn to God not just for peace in the decision but discernment to make the decision.
As James 1:5 tells us: God wants to give you wisdom, so ask.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
My experience with cancer patients is that there is so much more God wants to give them for their cancer journey than what they ask for. Facing a treatment choice is just one of countless times on a cancer journey that a cancer patient needs not just solid medical advice, but the discernment which comes from God.
Concern #3: Scans and Test Results
Cancer differs from many medical conditions because treatment periodically pauses to complete scans and test to see if the treatment is working. It’s common for cancer patient to feel anxiety and get caught up in the “what if’s”: “What if the tumor has grown?” “What if the treatment is not working?”
The church can help equip the cancer patient to cope with their anxiety by turning their focus to Christ-filled things.
Philippians 4:8 tells us: You are able to lead your thoughts to better places.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
The goal is not simply to think of these things, but to actually catch yourself thinking the negative thoughts and to replace them with these positive thoughts. This might be Christian music or books or the most powerful source of Christ-filled thoughts: scripture. Reading a favorite Bible story, flipping through a list of meaningful scripture, or reading just one verse over and over until you smile can make a world of difference.
Concern #4: Post-Cancer Treatment Depression
The cancer journey does not end on the last day of treatment. In Dr. Jean Yi’s article Anxiety and Depression in Cancer Survivors, she stated that “After cancer treatment, many survivors report feeling alone or even abandoned following the intensive support provided during their treatment.” (1) Unfortunately, many family, friends, and bosses believe that after treatment everything should go back to pre-diagnosis “normal.”
The church can help post-treatment cancer survivors to not feel abandoned by their church.
Galatians 6:2 tells us: Being free of hardship does not mean free of burden.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Perhaps the hardest part of bearing another person’s burden is knowing the burden exists. We began this article by acknowledging that most cancer patients tell the church “I’m fine.” It’s easy to see how a church might be unaware when these 4 concerns are impacting their cancer patients. Beginning to bear another’s burden requires consistency, compassion, and trust. What cancer patients need is someone with the time and training to consistently and compassionately engage with them so they can build trust.
At Cancer Companions, we discovered a church-based volunteer program called Cancer Prayer Partners. This program pairs a trained volunteer with a cancer patient to make weekly calls and ask “Is there anything I can pray for you this week?” From this simple and consistent touch, connections are made, compassion is shared, and low and behold, there is trust.
Learn more about the Cancer Prayer Partner Program and our scripture/prayer-filled materials created specifically for those struggling with cancer. Go to https://www.cancer-companions.org/faq-cancerprayerpartners/ or contact Cancer Companions at 314-814-0044.
1.Yi, jean C., and Karen L. Syrjala. “Anxiety and Depression in Cancer.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Institue of Health, Nov. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5915316/ .
Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see- how good God is. Blessed are you who run to Him.
Psalm 34:8-14 The Message
1. You can pray sporadically, leaving less opportunity for God to consistently show you the power of your prayers.
Sometimes, as we go through struggles, it’s easy to only pray for the big things, such as healing, and forget to pray for the little things along the way. The more things you pray about, the more opportunity Jesus has to answer your prayers. Think back to past prayers you have lifted to God. Whether your answered prayers were for a child’s safety, a financial solution, or a strengthened marriage, God has shown His faithfulness in your life. Don’t wait to see God’s faithfulness. Offer prayers all along your cancer journey to give God LOTS of opportunities to prove His faithfulness.
2. You can refuse to pray and just wait for God’s blessings.
What difference does it make if you pray and are blessed by God or if you don’t pray and are blessed
Not bothering to pray for something you need and God blessing you with it anyway is a nice thing. You should rejoice. But how much better the blessing would have been if you had humbled yourself to ask for the blessing and was then able to also rejoice in the wonder of knowing God heard your prayer and answered it? Rejoicing in answered prayer draws you closer to God and gives you evidence of God’s intimate role in your life, which you can then share with others.
3. You can miss recognizing the good things in your life as being from God.
Back in Session 4 Day 4, we discussed the temptation to think of everything as “mine”. Learning to view all good things in your life as coming from God takes effort and practice. Don’t let that self-serving part that is alive in each of us, rob you of seeing all the ways the Lord loves you.
Which of the “Three Stumbling Blocks to Consistent Cancer Prayers” is the most difficult for you? Why?
excerpt from Seeing God in Your Cancer Journey
To Print or download article CLICK HERE
It’s amazing how easily we can talk ourselves out of asking someone to be a volunteer. Here are some of the myths that can get in the way.
MYTH: “People don’t want to volunteer.”
FACT: Approximately 63 million Americans – 25% of the adult population – volunteer their time, talents, and energy to making a difference.
TRUTH: Do you know 4 people? Odds are one of them is ready to volunteer.
MYTH: “No one responded to our request for volunteers so I guess we don’t have any.”
FACT: 42.1% of people became volunteers with their main organization after being asked to volunteer.
TRUTH: People want to be ASKED! People want to be told they can do and they will not do it alone. Make a list of potential volunteers for you to personally ask.
MYTH: “People with jobs and family don’t have time to volunteer.”
FACT: People aged 35-44 and 45-54 are most likely to volunteer (28.9% and 28% respectively).
TRUTH: Resist the temptation to disqualify potential volunteers based on your perception of their “busy life”. Volunteerism is a heart decision not a head decision.
MYTH: “Volunteers are unreliable.”
FACT: On average, people spend an average of 52 hours per year volunteering their time.
TRUTH: Learn how to fit the volunteer’s needs and expectations to the organization’s for increased productivity.
MYTH: “People in churches do not want to volunteer.”
FACT: The top four volunteer areas are for religious (34.1%), education (26%), social service (14.9%), and health (7.3%) organizations.
TRUTH: Just because many parts of church life are changing, doesn’t mean the church is not still producing more volunteers than any other area.
Volunteerism is a powerful force which can bring solutions, stability, expertise and creativity to any organization. Don’t miss your chance to tap into this talent pool for your organization.
Karen Tripp MS LMFT leads Cancer Companions – an impactful volunteer led ministry which trains, equips, and supports volunteer teams across the country. Find out more at www.cancer-companions.org/start-here