I believe that hope is the single most important therapeutic measure that can be deployed in the treatment of any disease. You can be prescribed the best medicines, you can undergo the most skilled surgery, you can take all measure of supplements, chemicals, chemotherapy, diets, radiotherapy or any other remedy, but if the patient (and in some cases the doctor) has no faith in their working, they most certainly will not.
Faith, hope and belief are all are vital in the healing process but they are slightly different.
A dictionary definition of hope is: “To wish for something that you consider possible”
A dictionary definition of faith is: “confidence or trust in a person or thing, a belief in something not based on proof.
A dictionary definition of belief is; “confidence or trust that something is true, (whether it is proven or not.)”
Now, faith and belief are just subtly different. Although the definition says that beliefs do not need to be true, it is usually understood that our beliefs are held on the basis of some kind of knowledge. This may be well researched evidence or may be as little as hearsay or folklore, but our beliefs are not usually conjured out of thin air. Faith on the other hand, whilst being based on our beliefs, is entirely about what we do with our beliefs. We may believe that our door and window locks are well designed and able to deter burglars, we would say that be do not disbelieve the manufacturers’ guarantee , but if we sit up all night worrying and patrolling the house, we are not having faith in them.
In the bible it describes the importance between the difference between belief and faith in a story in which some disciples boast about their beliefs. “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.” (James 2:19). In other words, he who believes something and bases his actions and life on those beliefs is putting faith in his beliefs. However, someone who believes something to be true and yet acts as if it is not important, or helpful, or relevant, believes just as much but has no faith in it. In the bible it is the difference between a saving faith and damnation. In terminal illness it could be the same.
Hope is intimately related to faith. It stands to reason, hope is just feigned optimism unless it is based on firmly held beliefs, and more than that: faith in those beliefs. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1). Without faith, hope is without substance.
This is illustrated by the story of Charles Blondin: a tightrope walker asks a crowd if they believe that he can safely walk a wheelbarrow across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. And of course, most say that they do. Then he asks who is willing to get into the wheelbarrow. Only those whose “belief” reaches the point of faith will get in.
Imagine you needed to get to the other side to have a better chance of curing your disease. Would you get in the wheelbarrow? Probably not if you had never seen this man cross the rope before; maybe, if desperate enough, you might consider it if you had seen him do it safely a few times with an empty wheelbarrow; but almost certainly you would consider the trip if you had heard of, or better still seen, many other people be carried safely across. It is never a matter of blind faith. It is a matter of opening your eyes to the hope that can be seen.
The medical profession is obsessed with the avoidance of something they term, ‘false hope’. Presumably this stems from a fear of litigation should someone fail to get better on their recommended treatment. All well and good, by all means don’t tell me a treatment will work when it wont, or is unlikely to. But what if I have looked logically at my treatment (whether prescribed by you or me), I have believed the research and evidence of its efficacy, I have decided it could work, i have put my faith wholeheartedly in it and, as a consequence, have every hope of recovery against the odds? If you intend to declare that my hope in such a situation is ‘false’, you are duty bound to find out the basis for my belief, investigate my evidence in detail, and only after this, if you really think my beliefs are erroneous, you must return to me with irrefutable contrary evidence that will allow me to amend my heart-felt belief that recovery is at least possible. This is not a matter of amount of hope. It is a question of whether there is any evidence that something is possible or not. If something is possible, no matter how remote, then that is grounds for hope. There is nothing false about that.
In the case of ‘terminal cancer’ there are countless testimonies of unexpected remission or healing, despite the poorest medical prognosis. Of course they are not the norm, of course they are often ‘inexplicable’, of course they cannot be reproduced at will (by the medical profession). But they exist. And therefore there is always grounds for hope. And hope is one of the most powerful weapons in our arsenal against disease. Take that away and you could be declaring a death sentence, regardless of the ‘treatment’.
If your clinicians have not instilled hope in you, you must go and find it elsewhere. If they have actually tried to dispel any hope you have, you should go and find a different clinician. It doesn’t mean the treatment they are giving you is no good, but they are depriving you of its full benefit. Seek hope until you find it. Sometimes it’s a bit of a hide and seek game, but the only case without hope is one in which everyone has given up seeking.
Watch this TED talk below, about the power of hope and in particular the story of a remarkable patient who never gave up hope despite most of those around her being convicted in their belief that she would never recover. Her mother had researched the facts and explained that it was possible to grow new brain pathways. Based on a belief that this was possible this patient was given hope; she put absolute faith in her own beliefs. Most others believed that, despite the theoretical possibility, to give her or her relatives hope of recovery would be ‘false’. She proved everyone wrong.
Ted talk (link incase below video does not work)
“thoughts influence phsyology”
“expectation is key.”
And more evidence :
for an excellent paper on the management of Hope in the doctor patient relationship read this: https://stgrenal.org.au/sites/default/files/upload/Oncology-and-hope.pdf
Helplessness/hopefulness Br J Health Psychol. 2014 Nov;19(4):737-50. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12070. Epub 2013 Oct 23. ‘Psychosocial factors and mortality in women with early stage endometrial cancer.’
Telepak LC1, Jensen SE, Dodd SM, Morgan LS, Pereira DB.