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S2-5 Embracing a spiritual and compassionate care for patients living with advanced and terminal illnesses with Existential and Spiritual Distress
  1. Marvin Omar Delgado Guay
  1. University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, USA


There is an appointed time for everything. A time to give birth and a time to die.

—Ecclesiastes 3:2

What a privilege it is to be able to touch those sacred spaces in the soul of each person in suffering that we encounter every day. Facing our own mortality while suffering a life-threatening illness might create a cascade of distressful physical, emotional, existential/spiritual and social suffering. Patients who express living with existential/spiritual distress might express a loss of the will to live or a loss of the meaning of their lives. They also express low life satisfaction and happiness; worse sleep quality; severe anxiety and depressed mood. At the same time, expressing spiritual struggles might be related to decrease physical functioning and worse survival. Those who express spiritual distress have significantly lower self-perceived religiosity and spiritual quality of life.

With any rupture in the relationships that give us meaning or purpose, no matter the cause of the rupture, our humanity suffers; our soul breaks. It is extremely important for care providers to explore and evaluate that broken soul and try to identify factors from multiple domains that promote healing processes. Embracing the spiritual care into our daily practice is a common effort and a service provided by each member of the team. Our clinical encounters need to become spiritually informed with enough time and opportunity for reflection so that we are able to talk about illness trajectories, treatment, and medical decisions on the basis of personal values, self-worth, spiritual and religious beliefs, and spiritual and religious support systems, struggles and what gives the patients meaning and purpose. Our calling to help creating a healing environment for everybody—for patients and caregivers in suffering as well as for team members.

‘We all are part of the collective soul… Integrative care with multidisciplinary approaches… to provide a touch of hope… a touch of love… to decrease suffering and to improve the quality of life of patients and families/caregivers in distress’.

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