As we become end stage many of us find that our spiritual needs increase, but they are not being adequately met. Part of the problem is that we, ourselves, often cannot actually define what are our needs.
As a matter of fact, we may even have trouble defining the word spiritual. If you causally ask someone what the word spiritual means most of the time the initial response is related to prayer or religion. However, spiritual is much broader and all encompassing.
In the Journal of Oncological Nursing Forum. 2001 Jan-Feb;28(1):67-72, C.P. Hermann wrote report about the spiritual needs of dying patients (PMID 11198899). She interviewed hospice patients about their perceived spiritual needs. The interviews were evaluated and the information provided by the interviewees was categorized and analyzed into thematic groupings.
Although the interviewees initially defined their spiritual needs as relating to God or religion; additional analysis showed that their spirituality was actually part of their total existence. Twenty-nine unique spiritual needs were identified and grouped into six themes: need for religion, need for companionship, need for involvement and control, need to finish business, need to experience nature, and need for positive outlook.
Spirituality proved to actually be a broad concept that may or may not involve religion. Spiritual needs were likewise broad in scope and were linked closely to purpose and meaning in life.
Our needs for spiritual care, as we wend our way through the cancer process is great. Our needs can be complex and varied. Our practitioners and caretakers need to understand the complexity of our needs. Their training must be expanded to standardly include better listening skills, empathy skills and sensitivity to their patients. They have to learn how to address our spiritual needs, in all of its complexities, so as to enhance our quality of life.
Joel T Nowak MA, MSW