How might my advancing cancer affect my child’s spirituality or religious faith?

For some families, spirituality or religious faith can make all the difference in getting through life and its challenges. For some, these beliefs are tested in unexpected ways when a person has cancer – after diagnosis, during treatment, during recurrence, and after. During cancer treatment, it’s often an ongoing source of comfort and strength, and a family’s religious or spiritual community can be a source of deep care and support. But children at any age may also question how God or their higher power could allow their parent to have cancer, especially if there’s a chance that a parent might die.

Your answers reflect who you are.

The issue of why bad things happen to good people is one that many people struggle with. Do you believe that people get cancer as some sort of punishment for past mistakes, or is cancer a random event? Your answer reflects who you are, your family beliefs about these things, and your own philosophy of life. At times like these, talking with a spiritual counselor or leader might bring comfort or help you focus your faith and your spiritual direction. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help for yourself and your children. Sometimes your spiritual advisor can help you explain things to your child – this may help you, too.

The word faith implies that trust or belief is required. So faith is not a proven or scientific theory. This means that faith is more about asking questions than giving out answers – more about the process of searching rather than knowing. For instance, if you believe that your higher power is merciful and not punishing, you may want to share that belief with your family. If you’re not sure exactly how religion fits into your life, it’s OK to share that uncertainty, too. You can say something like “I’m not really sure how I feel right now – some days I’m really angry and not sure what to believe.” By being honest you lay the foundation for more truth and openness within the family.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Revised: December 12, 2014

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.