Cancer Treatment Centers of America® in Philadelphia (CTCA)—hosts its “Our Journey of Hope” (OJOH) workshop for spiritual leaders from approximately 40 faith communities. Held three times a year at CTCA in Philadelphia as well as at other CTCA locations, the two-day retreat focuses on empowering pastors and ministry leaders to start and/or expand the cancer support ministries at their churches and other places of worship. In addition to providing leaders with the knowledge, insights and tools they need to provide a greater depth of support for cancer patients and their caregivers, OJOH will give them the understanding and resources needed to empower the rest of their community to lovingly and supportively interact with patients, caregivers, and individuals who are grieving after losing a loved one to cancer.
“Our Journey of Hope’s mission is to support pastors and ministry leaders in building a single community empowered to face their fears about cancer and to harness the power of faith in order to walk the cancer journey confidently and together,” said Rev. Wendell Scanterbury, director of pastoral care at CTCA in Philadelphia. “OJOH isn’t simply about training a pastor or ministry leader in how to speak with a congregant about coping with his or her cancer, although that is a huge part of what we do during our two days together. It is about making a cancer ministry an inherent part of their faith communities, just as cancer is an inherent part of our world today.”
A powerful program unique to CTCA, OJOH has gained a reputation throughout the region and this year will draw participants representing a comprehensive range of faiths including Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Apostolic, Pentecostal, Assemblies of God, Church of God in Christ and non-denominational. Moreover, participants are coming from 7 states—Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia—and a handful have registered from Nigeria, Uganda and Uttar Pradesh. Participants represent people from congregations who are interested in or already have started to bring a well-rounded cancer ministry to their community. In the course of the two days, OJOH provides spiritual leaders with building blocks that allow them to go back to their communities, train co-leaders and establish an effective cancer ministry.
The two-day training event is facilitated by CTCA’s spiritual outreach and care team and follows an intense yet inspiring curriculum that will have participants networking with each other and interacting with everyone—from CTCA clinicians and staff to cancer survivors and peers who have already put their OJOH training to work in their communities.
“At every turn, participants will gain a deeper understanding of the critical role pastoral care and support from the faith community plays in whole-person care—and be given the opportunity to start developing strategies for enriching their faith communities with an effective cancer ministry that is responsive to individuals on a modern-day cancer journey,” said Scanterbury. “Ultimately, they will leave not only with this knowledge, but with the motivation and the tools to start and grow a powerful, unified cancer ministry.”
In addition to spiritual and pastoral support topics, OJOH participants will learn about cancer, treatments and physical side effects, as well as emotional and social needs for patients and their families. The OJOH agenda also allows for plenty of peer-to-peer interaction that will help leaders with their cancer ministry development. By the end of the two days, participants will leave armed with the knowledge, tools and resources to recruit and educate co-leaders from their faith communities and put the wheels in motion for their cancer ministries.
Key highlights from the two-day agenda include:
• Discussions on the value of a cancer care ministry and the spiritual, emotional and social impact of cancer
• Cancer education presentations including topics such as an overview of cancer, genetic testing and counseling, quality of life and symptom management, integrative cancer care, and cancer and psycho-emotional wellbeing
• Peer networking sessions and meals
• Building of a cancer care ministry, with discussions including building of support resources, reimagining the cancer care ministry in your community, starting a cancer care ministry, developing and following a cancer care curriculum
Environmental Care Tour: Including CTCA’s prayer room and chapel, the tour showcases various spaces at the hospital that are purposely designed to facilitate healing and hope for patients and families.
Through OJOH relationships, CTCA gains powerful insights for enhancing its own approach to pastoral care and establishes lines of communication that can help physicians better understand and respond to their patients.
“Our Journey of Hope is very much a two-way street,” said Dr. Sramila Aithal, medical oncologist and hematologist at CTCA in Philadelphia. “As clinicians we like to think we know it all, but the reality is spiritual leaders have a connection with our patients that no one else can have. People share things with their religious leaders that they don’t share with their closest friends, let alone their oncologist. These same leaders can sense things in a congregant that others cannot. We aim to build relationships with ministry leaders that will give us insights on enriching our approach to whole person care that very well may support our treatment of an individual should he or she come to CTCA.”
OJOH recognizes that there is no single “cookie-cutter” approach to a cancer ministry. The curriculum is intentional about considering various aspects of what one community may look like compared to another based on faith and how dynamics may differ according to populations and beliefs.
“There’s one thing we can say about cancer across the board—it’s a very isolating disease with that sense of loneliness brought on by fear, vulnerability and loss of control,” said Casey Cellar, pastoral care/coordinator, spiritual outreach at CTCA in Philadelphia. “And we do address this reality, of course. However, there are other more specialized dynamics that need to be addressed but that may not apply to all. In the African-American community, for example, cancer can be a taboo topic. Acknowledging it takes away control, and finding self-esteem and strength can be challenging, so we tend to run away from it. OJOH looks at and addresses the commonalities as well as the unique influences that may exist in various communities.”
“Ultimately,” Scanterbury concluded, “Faith is the rock on which we stand in order to face, overcome and grow from every challenge in life—from the little bumps in the road to the mountains that need moving. To say faith and the support of a faith community is important to a cancer journey is an understatement. Cancer patients need the support of their community, and the community needs to understand what patients need and how to provide it. It starts with building an entire supportive network that is open to the topic, that really wants to understand the many dimensions of this disease and that makes a conscientious decision to not run in fear, but to stand up confidently and be prepared to support its brothers and sisters in need.”
CTCA’s winter 2019 Our Journey of Hope training will take place on February 14 and 15 at Cancer Treatment Centers of America Philadelphia hospital, located at 1331 East Wyoming Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19124. Additional OJOH opportunities will be available at CTCA in Philadelphia in May and October of 2019.