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Health & Balance

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Our Search for Religion and Spirituality

New Agers are returning to church -- but keeping meditation and yoga classes on their schedules.

A Need for Hope continued...

In his book, he recalls one of his first patients -- a young woman with breast cancer. "She had a breast mass the size of a walnut. I come from a traditional Jewish background; I thought would befriend her, find out how a smart young woman could allow a tumor grow to this size without seeking medical attention."

Her story was more complicated than Groopman expected. "She was in an unhappy arranged marriage, having an affair with her boss -- who she had no illusion loved her -- but it was the only way to escape this marriage. Her interpretation of her breast cancer was that it was a punishment from God.

"I was completely in over my head," he says. "With a mixture of guilt and shame, I retreated from her. The senior surgeon convinced her to be treated. But so much was her shame, ultimately, her breast cancer led to her death."

When such lack of hope is explored, other feelings surface. "She felt she had no control over her world, none of her actions would make a difference," Groopman explains. "It was a profound lesson about hope and lack of hope, about having hope you can reach a better future, that the choices you make, the path you take can make a difference."

"Crisis raises complex questions," he tells WebMD. He remembers another patient, a young boy with cancer, who then got HIV from a blood transfusion and died of AIDS. "His parents kept asking, 'How could God allow this?' I don't think there is an answer to that."

By making a commitment to helping children who were ill, that family found their own way to cope, says Groopman. It's more evidence that helping others is the root of religion and spirituality.

Published April 8, 2004.

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