Every person affected by cancer faces challenges. There are the challenges of the initial diagnosis and coming to grips with the fact that life is suddenly different. There’s the challenge of getting through the often arduous treatment. And some are confronted with an even more difficult challenge – the realization that no treatment is likely to be effective.

It seems that many people I know are facing significant challenges right now. Often, there aren’t easy answers or really any answers at all. Many people with cancer tell me that they became more spiritual as a result of their disease. Prayer may be a source of comfort for many.

I was leafing through an old book of prayers to prepare for this column and a letter fell out. It was dated January 1, 1965 and was written by a patient at Roswell Park Hospital (now Cancer Center) in Buffalo. She wrote, “I began the day being wheeled besides a patient just coming out of anesthetic. To try to encourage him and cheer him, I prayed for him and God helped him. He too lost a leg.”

Oh, bless her heart.

The classic fisherman’s prayer below captures how it often feels to have cancer or to love a person with cancer:

Breton Fisherman’s Prayer

Dear God, be good to me.
The sea is so wide, and my boat is so small.

I read through many prayers to choose a handful that could fit in today’s column. The prayers that called to me weren’t focused on cure and healing, but on comfort and strength. This is one of my favorites:

Prayer to Live With Grace

May we discover through pain and torment,
the strength to live with grace and humor.

May we discover through doubt and anguish,
the strength to live with dignity and holiness.

May we discover through suffering and fear,
the strength to move toward healing.

May it come to pass that we be restored to health and to vigor.

May Life grant us wellness of body, spirit, and mind.

And if this cannot be so, may we find in this transformation and passage
moments of meaning, opportunities for love
and the deep and gracious calm that comes
when we allow ourselves to move on.

– Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro

And this anonymous prayer speaks to loved ones during difficult hours:

O God, I am afraid to leave my loved one yet I am so weary. Help me to know what to do and help me to trust my loved one into your gentle care. Help me also to receive your gentle care as I care for myself. Amen.


From the Ithaca Journal, November 10, 2008


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