Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 53, Issue 6, pp 1706–1716 | Cite as

“Trust in the Lord”: Religious and Spiritual Practices of African American Breast Cancer Survivors

  • Beverly Lynn
  • Grace J. YooEmail author
  • Ellen G. Levine
Original Paper


Few studies have examined the role of religion and spirituality among African American breast cancer patients. This study explored how African American women cope with breast cancer through religious and spiritual practices. Forty-seven African American women who had completed treatment for breast cancer participated in in-depth interviews about their experiences. The majority of the women mentioned using both individual and communal religious and spiritual practices to cope with their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. The main themes that emerged in terms of the types of religious and spiritual practices included: (1) attendance at religious services, (2) comfort through prayers of others, and (3) encouragement through reading Biblical scriptures. These practices helped women “trust in the Lord” throughout the many challenges of cancer from diagnosis through survivorship. Although this study is exploratory, the findings illustrate how African American women with breast cancer use religious and spiritual practices to cope with their diagnosis and treatment. For clinicians, the findings provides an understanding of spiritual and religious needs in diverse populations and the importance of referring patients onto spiritual and religious resources and support.


African American Breast cancer Spiritual practices 



This research was supported by research infrastructure in minority institutions (RIMI) grant 5 P20 MD000544-02 from the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities, National Institutes of Health, to San Francisco State University. The collection of cancer incidence data used in this study was supported by the California Department of Public Health as part of the statewide cancer reporting program mandated by California Health and Safety Code Section 103885; the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program under contract N01-PC-35136 awarded to the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, contract N01-PC-35139 awarded to the University of Southern California, and contract N02-PC-15105 awarded to the Public Health Institute; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Program of Cancer Registries, under agreement #U55/CCR921930-02 awarded to the Public Health Institute. The ideas and opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and endorsement by the State of California, Department of Public Health the National Cancer Institute, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or their Contractors and Subcontractors are not intended nor should be inferred.


  1. American Cancer Society. (2011). Cancer facts and figures for African Americans 2011–2012. Atlanta: American Cancer Society.Google Scholar
  2. Ashing-Giwa, K. T., Padilla, G., Tejero, J., Kraemer, J., Wright, K., Coscarelli, A., et al. (2004). Understanding the breast cancer experience of women: A qualitative study of African American, Asian American, Latina and Caucasian cancer survivors. Psycho-Oncology, 13, 408–428. doi: 10.1002/pon.750.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  3. Bellizzi, K., Smith, A., Reeve, B., Alfano, C., Berstein, L., Meeske, K., et al. (2009). Posttraumatic growth and health related quality of life in a racially diverse cohort of breast cancer survivors. Journal of Health Psychology, 15, 615–626. doi: 10.1177/1359105309356364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blackman, D. J., & Masi, C. M. (2006). Racial and ethnic disparities in breast cancer mortality: Are we doing enough to address the root causes? Journal of Clinical Oncology, 24(14), 2170–2178. doi: 10.1200/JCO2005054734.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bussing, A., & Fischer, J. (2009). Interpretation of illness in cancer survivors is associated with health-related variables and adaptive coping styles. BMC Women’s Health, 9(2). doi: 10.1186/1472-6874-9-2.
  6. Corbin J., & Strauss A. (2007). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory, 3rd edn. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, Inc. ISBN#: 141290644X.Google Scholar
  7. Coyle, J. (2002). Spirituality and health: Towards a framework for exploring the relationship between spirituality and health. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 37(6), 589–597. doi: 10.1046/j.13652648200202133x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Culver, J. L., Arena, P. L., Wimberly, S. R., Antoni, M. H., & Carver, C. S. (2004). Coping among African-American, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic White women recently treated for early stage breast cancer. Psychology and Health, 19(2), 157–166. doi: 10.1080/08870440310001652669.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Giedzinska, A. S., Meyerowitz, B. E., Ganz, P. A., & Rowland, J. H. (2004). Health-related quality of life in a multiethnic sample of breast cancer survivors. Annal Behavior Medicine, 28, 39–51. doi: 10.1207/s15324796abm28016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gillum, F., & Griffith, D. M. (2010). Prayer and spiritual practices for health reasons among American adults: The role of race and ethnicity. Journal of Religion and Health, 49(3), 283–295. doi: 10.1007/s1094300992497.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gregg, G. (2011). I’m a Jesus girl: Coping stories of Black American women diagnosed with breast cancer. Journal of Religion and Health, 50(4), 1040–1053. doi: 10.1007/s109430109395y.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Henderson, P. D., Gore, S. V., Davis, B. L., & Condon, E. H. (2003). African American women coping with breast cancer: A qualitative analysis. Oncology Nursing Forum, 30(4), 641–647. doi: 10.1188/03ONF641647.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Heppner, P., Armer, J. M., & Mallinckrodt, B. (2009). Problem-solving style and adaptation in breast cancer survivors: A prospective analysis. Journal of Cancer Survivorship, 3(2), 128–136.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  14. Howlader, N., Noone, A. M., Krapcho, M., Neyman, N., Aminou, R., Altekruse, S. F., et al. (2012). SEER cancer statistics review, 1975–2009 (vintage 2009 populations). Bethesda: National Cancer Institute.Google Scholar
  15. Kenne Sarenmalm, E., Browall, M., Persson, L.-O., Fall-Dickson, J., & Gaston-Johansson, F. (2011). Relationship of sense of coherence to stressful events, coping strategies, health status, and quality of life in women with breast cancer. Psycho-Oncology, 22(1), 20–27. doi: 10.1002/pon2053.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Koenig, H. G., George, L. K., Titus, P., & Meador, K. G. (2004). Religion, spirituality, and acute care hospitalization and long-term care use by older patients. Archives of Internal Medicine, 164, 1579–1585. doi: 10.1001/archinte.164141579.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Koenig, H. G., McCullough, M. E., & Larson, D. B. (2001). Handbook of religion and health. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBM-10: 0195118669.Google Scholar
  18. Leak, A., Hu, J., & King, C. R. (2008). Symptom distress, spirituality, and quality of life in African American breast cancer survivors. Cancer Nursing, 31(1), E15–E21. doi: 10.1097/01.NCC.00003056810614370.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Levine, E. G., Aviv, C., Yoo, G., Ewing, C., & Au, A. (2008). The benefits of prayer on mood and well-being of breast cancer survivors. Supportive Care in Cancer, 17, 295–306. doi: 10.1007/s0052000804825.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  20. Menashe, I., Anderson, W. F., Jatoi, I., & Rosenberg, P. S. (2009). Underlying causes of the Black-White racial disparity in breast cancer mortality: A population-based analysis. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 101, 993–1000. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djp176.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  21. Morgan, P., Gaston-Johansson, F., & Mock, V. (2006). Spiritual well-being, religious coping, and the quality of life of African American breast cancer treatment: A pilot study. ABNF, 17, 73–77.Google Scholar
  22. Musgrave, C. F., Allen, C. E., & Allen, G. J. (2002). Spirituality and health for women of color. American Journal of Public Health, 92, 557–560. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.92.4.557.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  23. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. (2012). NCCN clinical practice guidelines in oncology: Distress management. National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc.Google Scholar
  24. Nelson, K. M. (2009). Practices and religious communities. In J. M. Nelson (Eds.), Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality, 391–433. doi: 10.1007/978-0-387-87573-6_12.
  25. Pargament, K. I., Smith, B. W., Koenig, H. G., & Perez, L. (1998). Patterns of positive and negative religious coping with major life stressors. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 37, 714–724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (2008). US religious landscape survey. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.Google Scholar
  27. Roff, L. R., Simon, C. E., Nelson-Gardell, D., & Pleasants, H. M. (2009). Spiritual support and African American breast cancer survivors. Affilia, 24(3), 285–299. doi: 10.1177/0886109909337372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Russell, K. M., Van Ah, D. M., Giesler, B., Storniolo, A. M., & Haase, J. E. (2008). Quality of life of African American breast cancer survivors. How much do we know? Cancer Nursing, 31((6), E36–E45. doi: 10.1097/01NCC000033925468324d7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schrieber, J. A., & Brockopp, D. Y. (2012). Twenty-five years later–what do we know about religion/spirituality and psychological well-being among cancer survivors? A systematic review. Journal of Cancer Survivorship, 6, 82–94. doi: 10.1007/s11764-011-0193-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Schulz, E., Holt, C. L., Caplan, L., Blake, V., Southward, P., Buckner, A., et al. (2008). Role of spirituality in cancer coping among African Americans: A qualitative examination. Journal of Cancer Survivorship, 2, 104–115. doi: 10.1007/s11764-008-0050-5.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  31. Shavers, V. L., & Brown, M. L. (2002). Racial and ethnic disparities in the receipt of cancer treatment. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 94(5), 334–357. doi: 10.1093/jnci/94.5.334.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Silva, S. M., Crespo, C., & Canavarro, M. C. (2012). Pathways for psychological adjustment in breast cancer: A longitudinal study on coping strategies and posttraumatic growth. Psychology and Health, 27(11), 1323–1341. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2012.676644.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Taylor, R. J., Chatters, L. M., & Levin, J. (2003). Religion in the lives of African Americans: Social, psychological, and health perspectives. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  34. Thune-Boyle, I. C., Stygall, J. A., Keshtgar, M. R., & Newman, S. P. (2006). Do religious/spiritual coping strategies affect illness adjustment in patients with cancer? A systematic review of the literature. Social Science and Medicine, 63(1), 151–164. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.11.055.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cancer Disparities Research GroupSan Francisco State UniversitySan FranciscoUSA

Personalised recommendations