Battling Cancer Depression and Anxiety with Prayer, Scripture and Companionship

Hidden among the many layers of a cancer struggle are the burdens of depression and anxiety.  Although studies have been done to look at the impact of religion and spirituality on cancer (1), the time has come for programs to be designed to utilize Christian components of the faith to relieve the depression and anxiety during a cancer journey.  This study evaluated the ability of Cancer Companion’s group Bible study meetings to decrease depression and anxiety in cancer patients, survivors and caregivers.

Background

While depression and anxiety may hinder cancer treatment and recovery, it has also been found to impact quality of life and survival. (2)  One study in British Medical Journal (BMJ) showed for cancer of the bowel, prostate, pancreas, and esophagus and for leukemia the death rates of the group reporting more depression and anxieties were consistently higher than the death rates of the group with less depression and anxiety. (3)

A large body of research 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. (4)   In regards to cancer, one meta-analysis article published by the National Institutes of Health suggest that greater religion and spirituality is associated with better cancer patient-reported physical health. (5)   These results underscore the importance of attending to patients’ religious and spiritual needs as part of comprehensive cancer care. (6)   The Cancer Companion program used in this study was created in response to this understanding.

The Cancer Companion program focuses on improving a participant’s emotional self- regulation through the Christian components of prayer, scripture and companionship.  A study which looked specifically at cancer patient’s emotional self-regulation discovered that religious fellowship can enhance positive emotion through social support, while religious and spiritual rituals and faith can provide hope, forgiveness, comfort, love, and other emotional benefits. (7)

Methods:

The program, titled Seeing God in Your Cancer Journey, consists of 9 Christian Bible study meetings lead by trained volunteer facilitators covering the topics of Faith, Questions, Healing, Prayer, Stress reduction, Relationships, Communication and Healthy Living.  Each group is equipped with Participant Guide books, Facilitator Guide books and Interactive Videos to be used at each meeting.  Volunteer facilitators have completed six 7-hour online training including the topics Impact of Cancer, Connecting with Participants and Use of Program Materials

The percentage of participants who identified as Christian prior to entering the program was 96.3%.  Participants include cancer patients, survivors and caregivers invited to participate in the program through church announcements, personal invitations, website and social media.  Each meeting was held at the trained facilitator’s church.

The program’s outcomes are:

  1. Increase participant’s understanding of who God is, the character of God.
  2. Increase comfort level for God’s role in my cancer journey.
  3. Improve participant’s communication with the important people in their life.
  4. Increase the variety of topics the participant prays about.
  5. Improve participant’s depression.
  6. Improve participant’s anxiety.

Participants were asked to complete evaluation forms at the end of the last meeting.  Since the groups were held in churches across the country, the facilitator mailed the evaluations to the home office in St Louis to be tabulated and reviewed.  Total participant evaluations received is 110.

Completed paper participant evaluations were entered into Constant Contact Survey Builder to gather results.

Results:

Through the Cancer Companion Program,
My understanding of who God is, the character of God, has… Increased a lot The same Not increased
57% 43% 0%
God’s role in my cancer journey feels… More comfortable The same Less comfortable
88% 11% 1%
My communication with the important people in my life has… Improved a lot The same Not improved
57% 43% 0%
The variety of topics I pray about…

 

Increased a lot The same Not increased
73% 27% 0%

 

 

During my Cancer Companion Sessions, Improved Greatly Improved Stayed the same Gotten worse
My anxiety has… 22% 69% 8% 1%
 
My depression has… 13% 66% 20% 1%
 

Conclusions:

Results suggest that this Christian Bible Study group programs can improve the emotional wellbeing of Christian cancer patients and caregivers by improving their experience of depression and anxiety.  These results underscore the importance of designing and utilizing faith-based programs as a component of a comprehensive cancer care plan when appropriate.

  1. https://psychcentral.com/news/2017/01/30/depression-anxiety-up-mortality-risk-for-some-cancers/115787.html
  2. https://bmccancer.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12885-019-6181-4 Depression and anxiety among people living with and beyond cancer: a growing clinical and research priority
  3. https://psychcentral.com/news/2017/01/30/depression-anxiety-up-mortality-risk-for-some-cancers/115787.html
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4618080/
  5. Ibid
  6. Ibid
  7. Ibid

About Karen Tripp

Beyond being a Christian Counselor and the President of Cancer Companions, Karen loves to read (she's a great reader) and loves to sing (she's a bad singer) in her home near St Louis, MO. Cancer has personally touched Karen's personal life through her dad - a 23 year colon cancer survivor. Impacting lives for Christ through her speaking, writing and counseling fills Karen with a passion which infuses every task she approaches. (except matching socks. Karen hates matching socks.)
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