“I would remind any newly diagnosed woman of a promise of God in the words of Jeremiah 29:11, ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’” - Rev. Drew Angus
As cancer care evolves, healthcare providers are realizing that patients need a holistic approach to care - one where spirituality, love and compassionate care are a part of the patient’s treatment journey. Rev. Drew Angus shares his work at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), supporting patients, caregivers and loved ones of those affected by cancer.
MK: You have a very unique role at CTCA, as the Director of Spiritual Outreach.
DA: Every patient who comes into our hospital is part of a larger community. My role is to develop spiritual cancer care leaders in these community congregations through a curriculum developed by CTCA called Our Journey of Hope. This program trains congregation leaders to build a compassionate and faith-based cancer care ministry.
MK: Why is spiritual support such an important part of caring for breast cancer patients or any patient with cancer?
DA: A diagnosis of cancer and the journey requires endurance during a time of extreme vulnerability. Cancer can destabilize our sense of control. Spiritual support helps people build hope and remain grounded in something much bigger than themselves or cancer. Spiritual support is where cancer patients and their families often find courage, and a strong identity as a child of God when others may not come through for them.
MK: How do you integrate spirituality into patient care at CTCA?
DA By listening. Our pastoral care team listens and provides spiritual support for each patient. It is not unusual for a doctor to pray with a patient or for a patient’s caregiver to participate in our support groups.
MK: What are some of the most important needs of patient?
DA: Going through cancer treatment can feel like a second job. It can be overwhelming to manage the coordination of treatments, doctors’ appointments, medication, rest time and insurance, along with the normal activities of life that don’t stop with a cancer diagnosis. Patients can find it hard to keep up. Having a support team helps the person to stay connected to the parts of life that bring joy and meaning.
MK: What role does faith play in cancer treatment, recovery and survivorship?
DA: According to the research of Harold Koenig, M.D., Director of Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, “People with strong faith who suffer from physical illness have significantly better outcomes than less religious people.” There is a growing body of research that indicates that faith plays a significant role in the overall health, wellness, and recovery for those with illness.
MK: How do you help men integrate spirituality into the caregiver realm, so they better support their spouses?
DA: Sometimes caregivers are referred to as the ‘healthy patient’, because they go through many of the same struggles as those who are ill, but don’t receive as much support. Isolation, fear and fatigue are challenges for patients and caregivers. Men typically like a problem that they can fix and might be less likely to admit how they are feeling than women. At CTCA, we have a men’s support group for both patients and caregivers to share what they are experiencing, and to support each other spiritually and through prayer. Spiritual care is crucial for men so that they have divine and human connection to express what they are going through, and to have the resources they need to support their spouses well. Men who are caregivers need permission to draw strength from God so they have enough to give for their spouse.
MK: How do you help children integrate spirituality to better cope with having a mother diagnosed with breast cancer?
DA: Mothers are a source of stability, safety and nurturing for their children. When a child experiences his or her mother being diagnosed with cancer, it can be one of the most threatening and stressful events that can happen to that child. Many children, like adults, find stability and peace through spiritual rituals that remind them of God’s loving presence in all circumstances. When a child has a spiritual community, they feel less alone. When children have opportunities to verbalize their feelings, they are less inclined to be consumed with fear. An integrated spiritual life for kids also enables them to ask hard questions that they might not otherwise verbalize.
MK: What would be your grandest vision for the integration of faith and spirituality into cancer care?
DA: My grandest vision of spirituality and cancer care would be that every health system would acknowledge the benefits and provide for spiritual care as a part of the treatment plan.
MK: How has ministering with faith to breast cancer patients changed you?
DA: It has renewed my hope in humanity. I have seen breast cancer organizations, like Tigerlily Foundation, use power altruistically for the betterment of society. I have seen community organizations use education to influence the government and to change policy, an our culture. I am inspired by all the grass roots efforts I see for breast cancer awareness and support.
MK: How has this work deepened your relationship with God?
DA: My prayers are filled with much more gratitude than they were several years ago. I take less for granted and see all the ways God blesses and provides for his children. When I start complaining, I picture one of my sisters with breast cancer holding down a job, raising kids, caring for parents and having chemo…all at the same time!
MK: What one word defines you?