The whole spectrum of physical illness from the common flu to a hopeless cancer diagnosis can be debilitating and depressing. Fighting any illness is still a fight. Strangely, I have had very little experience with physical, suffering more acutely from mental-health issues, but I have had a front row seat to much in the way of physical suffering.
But how does hope play a role in recovery from a physical illness? Is hope really important in the healing process? In his book called The Anatomy of Hope, Dr. Jerry Groopman speaks of the influence of hope for physical healing. Talking about the newer science of epigenetics-the science of understanding how genes are influenced by experiences and environment to produce an outcome-and the impact of hope in medicine. “Hope is a significant ingredient to true healing. But true hope requires an understanding and acknowledgement of the obstacles. There is no room for delusion.” (The Anatomy of Hope/ Dr. Jerry Groopman)
Another author asks: “What stimulates the hope that can sometimes lie dormant within us? Knowledge! Knowing about what has happened, what may happen, and understanding that we have the ability to influence outcomes. She goes on to say that the most powerful medicines known to mankind are in the brain. Chemicals in the brain can facilitate healing. Beliefs and expectations-the foundation upon which hope is built-can trigger the release of healing hormones. (The Healing Power of Hope/ Karolyn Gazella/ psychologytoday.com/ 11.26.2012)
So how can I apply this idea of a healing hope to my own or others’ illnesses? My only close call with physical illness was the time that I overdosed on a malarial cure in the Congo-an issue with transposing milligrams and micrograms. For an hour, I was higher than a kite with an inability to relax or go to sleep. I survived. But I was thankful for the prayer of my husband asking God to put me to sleep. Something that happened ten minutes after the prayer.
But I have had the first-hand experience of watching physical illness take a life. In the Congo, we had a young neighbor die of cerebral malaria. And closer to home was the early death of my own sister to ovarian cancer. Our Congolese neighbor got sick so quickly and died so quickly, that I had no opportunity to help her. But the case of my sister was different.
My sister was thirty-one when she learned that she had stage four ovarian cancer. She opted for surgery and a round of chemo but moved on to nutrition to continue her healing. Every other person that she was diagnosed with in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania died within six months of their diagnosis. My sister lived more than three years. Her hope of recovery and the prayers of thousands of believers around the globe kept her going. She knew that God loved her and actually viewed her cancer as an opportunity to encourage others going through a similar battle.
The prophet Jeremiah prayed: “Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for You are my praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14) He trusted that his healing and the healing of his nation was capably in the hands of God. He had hope for healing because of the object of his hope.
So, do I believe that hope can play a significant role in the healing process of myself or those that I know and love? Yes!