Faith in dealing with illness

When my haematologist told me in November last year that, after 13 years of treatment, they had run out of publicly-funded options for treating my myeloma and I had, as a worst-case scenario, a few weeks left to live, it was a bit of a shock. "You could be dead by Christmas," were his exact words. And yet, here we are, officially in the second half of the new year, and I'm still hanging around—a bit slower and shorter than before—but above ground!

They did have some older treatments to reuse, which seem to have kept me going. Modern medicine is a wonderful gift from dedicated researchers and clinicians, and I have a lot of confidence in it based on my experience. However, what form does our faith take in things that help us when we are sick?

I've been a practising Buddhist for a number of years, and now that I'm officially retired, I've had more time to focus on my practice. There are some prayers for a long life I do regularly. Previously, I would have been reluctant, sceptical, and probably a little embarrassed, to discuss this, but I have come to accept that faith in these is probably helping. I can't prove they are keeping me alive, of course, but they are certainly helping me accept what is happening to my body and mind.

I know there are plenty of people around, including many in my immediate family, who don't hold with this spiritual malarkey and would prefer to rely solely on science-based medical treatment. That really helps them when they are sick, but isn't that just another type of faith? Unless we give up on getting well or staying alive, we would have faith and confidence in something we hope will help us. The trick is not to believe it can't fail and run the risk of a crashing disappointment if it does.

I think we are in a stronger emotional and physical position when we accept that we, and the people helping us—whether they are doctors and nurses, good friends, wise family members, counsellors, kaumatua, pastors, or monks and nuns—want to do whatever is best suited to us to navigate this tricky path of sickness and dying.

So, keep your faith, whatever it is, and use it to cope with what is happening to you. I'm confident it will help.

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