FAITH + MEDICINE = A HOPE-filled combination
By Pat Sabiston, Connecting NowFaith
I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength: Philippians 4:13
Faith and medicine have been linked to healing throughout human history, even though in the early 1900s the Flexner report advised physicians that there was no place for religion in medicine. It was only in the past 20 years that medical schools began to offer required courses in spirituality and medicine.
Many believe healthcare professionals have an ethical obligation to attend to all the various aspects of a person’s suffering. This philosophy is the basis of Dr. Raul E. Storey’s oncology practice within the Florida Cancer Specialists and Research Institute.
“It is not uncommon to watch patients have an increase in their faith, or become more aware of ‘something bigger than them’ when they are facing a critical time in their life,” Storey said. “It’s very common for their faith to increase during their journey of cancer.”
Faith is a part of Storey’s personal life as well. “My faith has increased with age, but it’s also something I’ve worked on. I’ve been more aware of expressing gratitude, and feeling grateful to be in the space with my patients, being able to serve and help them. Because even though we deal with patients where a cure is not an option, we have the opportunity to promote healing,” shared Storey.
Asked to explain what appears as a contradiction, Storey said healing is creating harmony between the body, mind, and soul.
“Some patients have cancers we can cure, while others may have cancer for a long time, but we can promote healing. To ‘cure’ means the absence of disease, but healing, while providing treatment for cancer creates harmony between the body, mind, and soul,” explained Storey.
“Every person has a different journey and state of mind so it depends on how the patient receives what is happening to them. For instance, some patients say, ‘Okay, let’s treat it, and if I have to move forward to the next stage, I’m happy.’ For others, it’s a ‘wake-up call’ where they can decide to live a more purposeful and meaningful life. Every one of my patients is different, and I need to be there to support them in the best way possible to serve their individual needs,” shared Storey.
Storey incorporates a person’s faith into their healing process. “My goal is to come alongside and help them cope with what they are going through using their belief system. In some cases, during their journey, we can promote hope, and to a certain degree, sometimes joy, without disregarding the severity of their disease," he said.
This mission is accomplished within Storey’s Healing Arts Medicine facility in Vero Beach.
“Barbara Hoffman and I brought together 16 different artists to expose our patients to arts, crafts, and music therapy while the patients are getting their infusions. Not only do the arts create a sense of community and support, but patients have told us it creates hope and helps them deal with anxiety and depression. Some patients have even told us the sensation of pain has subsided,” Storey said.
Storey often gets the question, “Why did this happen to me?” His response is quite pragmatic. “We don’t know what causes cancer, because some are aligned with risk factors while others may result from genetic disposition. What we do know is that cancer happens when there is chronic exposure to inflammation,” said Storey.
He believes one of the best things physicians can do is provide information to the patient and their family.
“Some want to know more about their disease, expectations, statistics, etc., while others are more focused on how to treat it, but don’t want to know too much about the future in front of them. Doctors work in the scientific realm and explain the statistics; however, it often comes down to the question: ‘Is there any hope?’ And I tell them ‘There is always hope,’” shared Storey.
What’s exciting for Storey is the great strides in medicine. “In the past, cancer was equal to a death sentence, and over the years, we have been able to shift it to being a ‘chronic disease.’ We have a huge amount of patients who have cancer, but they will die of something else.”
When asked how God plays a part in a treatment plan, Storey explained that every patient is different. “I always approach discussions with spirituality. It’s part of the way I live my life, but it usually involves the patient’s search for the meaning of life. By practicing gratitude, it’s a perfect blend of success by living a meaningful and purposeful life.”
Marni Howder is all too aware that we serve a mighty God who reveals Himself through medicine and by faith. “In 2015, I was diagnosed with brain cancer. Since my faith in God is everything to me, He gave me the strength to be strong and positive. And, He let me know that everything was going to be okay,” Howder said. “Every day, I wake up and thank God for the new day, my health, and the opportunities of that day.
Now, I’ve been cancer-free for five years, and I thank Dr. Storey for being such a compassionate and talented oncologist.” Interestingly, one of the reasons Storey started his medical oncology career was when his father was diagnosed with cancer in 1995. “My father still has cancer, but at 78, he gets regular treatments. Recently, he and I ran the Miami marathon together,” Storey said. “He has a strong faith as well.”
So, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that, to borrow the words of author Trevor Bibler, “The relationships between life, death, medicine, and the Divine will likely continue forever.”