Are you a clinician that needs some advice on how to better support and treat a patient of yours that struggles with cancer? Do you experience compassion fatigue? How does one combat it?
In this podcast episode, Whitney Owens speaks about working with cancer patients with Rev. Percy McCray.
Meet Percy McCray
Percy W. McCray Jr. is currently the National Director of Faith-based Programs in the Corporate offices of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Boca Raton, FL since 2015. He was previously Director of Pastoral Care Services at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Chicago since 1996. As a fully ordained minister, he is a member of the United States Chaplain Association (USCA), three times honored as one of Chicago’s “Most Influential African Americans by the “People Voice” newspaper, one time-honored as one of Chicagoland ‘Most beloved Pastors’ by the Chicago Defender newspaper.
He has traveled extensively as an Inspirational speaker and seminar facilitator to churches and pastors across the country equipping faith communities to establish Healthcare ministries with the “Our Journey of Hope” Cancer Care Leadership program, training over 1,400 churches worldwide. He also hosts the popular award-winning podcast “Health, Hope, and Inspiration” with 180,000 subscribers., while managing the Our Journey of Hope “Leaders Network” with a membership of 30,000 faith and community leaders worldwide.
In This Podcast
- Integrating science and medicine with faith
- Addressing doubt with cancer patients
- Journey of Hope
- Advice to therapists for their wellbeing
Integrating science and medicine with faith
Historically, people of faith have felt conflicted in medical systems. Rev. McCray speaks about letting people of faith in hospitals know that God is also a healer and that God wants to promote healing and wellbeing.
By that same token, through the gifts of science and medicine humanity can work to continue to promote healing. In viewing science and medicine as gifts from God and that they work in collaboration with faith, people of faith may feel more at ease when being treated and do not have to feel that they must choose between the two.
The key here is to create a union and marriage and balance between two disciplines, and helping both parties to understand that when they work together collectively on the best interest of the patient or the person, we give them an optimal opportunity to achieve the goal of wellness and wellbeing.
There is a shift happening in the medical world where there is more of a collaborative effort between science, medicine, and faith to create more holistic care.
Addressing doubt with cancer patients
The benefits of creating rapport relationships between clinicians and patients is that a safe space is created wherein a person can sit and talk, being open and transparent, without fear of being judged. Part of good counseling is to create this space where people can express their feelings without being judged or have their faith doubted.
I believe that it is erroneous to facilitate a conversation with someone that leaves them in a place that, because they are feeling doubtful or fearful, that they are then not a man or woman of faith and that God is not working with them. I think that is one of the biggest misnomers that has been prescribed by some faith camps that we need to counter-balance and revisit.
People that have been diagnosed with cancer need time, support, and patience to help them process the emotions and the new reality without any further mental hurdles and without any judgment.
Consultants do not need to directly provide answers in these spaces, but to simply provide the space itself for patients talk through their emotions because that in itself is cathartic.
Our Journey of Hope
Our Journey of Hope is an organization that helps spiritual leaders and churches learn how to assist their people who struggle with cancer personally or within their family.
Our Journey of Hope is really designed to provide local churches and spiritual leaders with practical resources and information and insights that will allow them to go back into their local church and begin to develop a cancer ministry.
This helps not only the church itself but also the local community that it is situated in.
Cancer is a community disease, it is not an individual sport. So the cancer patient may be initially impacted but the family, their loved ones, their children, everyone that’s connected to a cancer patients has some sort of impact from that, that they need to be unpacking or dealing with because that is the trauma effect.
Therefore, having these counseling resources available to the local community is vital, because everyone in the community can benefit from it.
Advice to therapists for their wellbeing
Compassion fatigue is a real issue, and many counselors and family members who support people with cancer can suffer from it. Therapists and counselors, for their own wellbeing, are advised to:
- Establish a relationship with someone outside of work with who you can speak in order to release some of the emotional tension of the situation. They may not even need to provide you with answers, just that cathartic space and a shoulder to lean on should you require it.
- As a ‘professional caregiver’, if you are someone who wears work attire or a lab coat for example when you get home after work immediately take off your work clothes and put on fresh clothes for your home so that you can get yourself out of a work frame of mind into a new home-headspace where you can relax. This physical act may help you mentally shift out of that work frame of mind so that you do not bring work troubles or stresses home with you.
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Meet Whitney Owens
Whitney is a licensed professional counselor and owns a growing group practice in Savannah, Georgia. Along with a wealth of experience managing a practice, she also has an extensive history working in a variety of clinical and religious settings, allowing her to specialize in consulting for faith-based practices and those wanting to connect with religious organizations.
Knowing the pains and difficulties surrounding building a private practice, she started this podcast to help clinicians start, grow, and scale a faith-based practice. She has learned how to start and grow a successful practice that adheres to her own faith and values. And as a private practice consultant, she has helped many clinicians do the same.
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Welcome to the Faith in Practice podcast. I’m your host, Whitney Owens, recording live from Savannah, Georgia. I’m a licensed professional counselor, group practice owner, and private practice consultant. Each week, through personal story or amazing interviews, I will help you learn how to start, grow, and scale your private practice from a faith-based perspective. I’m going to show you how to have an awesome, faith-based practice without being cheesy or fake. You too can have a successful practice, make lots of money, and be true to yourself.
So I want to make sure that you’ve heard about Killin’It Camp. It’s an exclusive conference put on through Practice of the Practice. This is gonna be the second year actually that we’ve done it; the first year was a total success. Loved it. We were out in Estes Park, Colorado last October, had a great, great time. This year, going to be different, we’re doing it virtually. But for those of you that went last year, I want you to know that we are doing it again and it is going to be a virtual conference. To learn more about it, you can go to killinitcamp.com. But let me tell you a little bit about the details in case you’re interested. So Killin’It Camp is where we help solo practice owners, group practice owners, those with big ideas find out how to maximize their time, their energy, and make their practice flourish. This virtual conference is going to be October 5th through the 7th, and we’re gonna break it up into themes each day.
So the first day is all about pillars of your practice. And so it’s like the basics of growing your practice as a solo practitioner – or maybe it’s a group practitioner – kind of making that foundation for your practice. And then the next day, we’re going to talk about scaling your practice. And that’s how do we take something that’s growing and make it easier, make it simpler, what are the systems that we can put in place to make that work? And then the last day is going to be all about big ideas, and Joe’s going to do a lot of talking about podcasting. I know a lot of my listeners love the idea of starting their own podcast. So he’ll be talking about that, too. So I’m looking forward to this event, I’m actually going to meet a friend for a few days in a secret destination, and relax, and really invest my time and energy into this virtual conference. I kind of wanted to do something a little different than sitting at home and doing virtual things the way we’ve all been doing. So I’m gonna get away and have a pretty view out my window while I do my virtual event. So I’m really looking forward to kind of letting it be a time that not only I work on my practice, and help you work on your practice, but also relax myself.
So I’m going to actually be speaking a couple of the events, we actually have a lot of really awesome speakers. So I do want you to go over to killinitcamp.com and look at those. But on the second day, I’m going to be talking about delegating and how to kill it through delegation. Over and over again, as my practice grows, its delegate, delegate, delegate, and that is the way that my practice keeps growing. And that’s the way that I take things off my plate, and I work less and we make more. And it sounds so crazy, but the bigger the practice gets, there’s this weird time where you start working less. I feel like when I first started growing my practice, I was really hustling, you know, when I was solo. And then when I started a group, I had to work really hard – those first few clinicians – to get things in place. And now that the practice is, you know, I’m sitting at six clinicians, and I’m looking at hiring another soon, I’m really finding that I can step back because I’m learning how to delegate out more, create better systems so that I don’t have to be as involved. So anyway, that gives me more time to be with you guys and to be doing podcasts and all that good stuff. So I’m going to be talking on the second day about scaling. I’m also going to be part of a group practice panel with Alison Pidgeon and a couple of other really awesome group practice owners. So we’re going to be answering your questions about group practice ownership. So I’m looking forward to this event. Head on over to killinitcamp.com to learn more about that.
So we will jump into the episode in just a minute. I enjoyed my interview that I did with Reverend Percy McCray. He does work with the Cancer Centers of America and helps as a Reverend, a chaplain, and he goes in and he talks with families and does really great work. He has a really sweet presence about him but a real strength about him as well. After he did this interview with me, he had me on his podcast as well, and we’ll talk about his podcast in the show. I really enjoyed my time with him. And so I think you’ll really enjoy this episode, especially if you have cancer patients that you work with. I was really amazed. He said that one out of every three people at some point has a cancer diagnosis. And that’s pretty incredible. So you can know that in our work, you’re either going to be working with someone who has cancer or working with someone whose loved one has cancer. And so this is going to impact the work that we do with our clients. So you’re going to learn a lot today. So let’s head on into the episode – episode number 47 – on working with cancer patients
On the Faith in Practice podcast today, I have Reverend Percy W. McCray, Jr. He is currently the National Director of Faith Based Programs in the corporate offices of Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Boca Raton, Florida since 2015. He is previously the Director of Pastoral Care Services at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Chicago since 1996. As a fully ordained minister, he is a member of the United States Chaplain Association. Three times honored as one of Chicago’s most influential African Americans by the People’s Voice newspaper, one time honored as one of Chicagoland’s “most beloved pastors” by the Chicago Defender newspaper. Reverend McCray has ministered to celebrities, dignitaries, and political leaders throughout the country as a motivational and inspirational speaker. He’s traveled extensively as an international speaker and seminar facilitator to churches and pastors across the country, equipping faith communities to establish health care ministries with the Our Journey of Hope Cancer Care Leadership Program, training over 1400 churches worldwide. He also hosts the popular award winning podcast Health, Hope and Inspiration with 180,000 subscribers while managing the Our Journey of Hope Leadership Network with a membership of 30,000 faith and community leaders worldwide. Percy has been providing leadership in secular and sacred arenas for over 25 years. His overwhelming positive energy attitude and personal mission to victoriously apply love, order, and responsibility back to a hurting world consumes his being. His soul is restless with an unapologetic belief that somebody has to raise the standard in a culture fraught with a lack of humility and humanity toward their fellow man. He believes this is simply unacceptable, and we can do and be inspired to be good leaders to do so. Thanks for coming on the show today. [REV. MCCRAY]:
Well, thank you, Whitney, for having me. I appreciate it. Thank you so much. [WHITNEY]:
Yes. So I would love to hear a little bit more of your story on how you got so involved in the cancer community. And what kind of brought you into that. [REV. MCCRAY]:
It’s an intriguing story I’m often asked, and interestingly enough, I can say off the top, I had no desire or interest at all in entering into the ministry with regard to service to cancer patients. It’s very ironic. And what I can tell you is that while finishing up Bible College in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I graduated and was looking for the opportunity to transition back home to Chicago, which I am a native of. I had an acquaintance that worked at a facility called the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and asked if I would be interested in doing ministry to cancer patients. And I was like, no, not really, I want to be a pastor. That’s what I believe God has called me to do, and that’s what I went to school for. And so this person, basically – who was someone that I knew very well – basically harassed me over about a year and I relented, and I agreed, I gave them my application, they turned it in. And sure enough, they called me in and we had a conversation and long story short, I was hired, started working at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and then transitioned and came home to Chicago as planned, becoming the Director of Pastoral Care at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in the greater Chicagoland area. And so I had no history of cancer in my family or incidents. I had not been acquainted with anyone personally that had had cancer. But somehow, the Lord basically redirected my path along the lines of health care, and really the need of being able to merge faith and spirituality and medicine and science in a very respectful and responsive manner that will be beneficial to the patient who really needs to have a healthy balance of both if they’re truly going to walk in a mental, emotional, and potentially physical healthy manner. And so now, twenty plus years in this industry and almost missed God, thinking that I was only going to be a pastor. So here I am. [WHITNEY]:
God has a way of doing that, right? We’re going one direction and he says, uh uh, you’re going this direction. [REV. MCCRAY]:
That is absolutely true. So I tell people all the time, be careful with your plans. [WHITNEY]:
That’s right. That’s right. Well, goodness, I have so many things I want to ask you about. I would love to first start talking about how important it is that we integrate science and faith in working with cancer patients. And so how do you do that? How does that work happen with cancer patients? And what do you see happening within them when you bring faith into the mix? [REV. MCCRAY]:
That’s a great question. And the dynamic that’s at work there – I often have used this analogy from a colleague of mine who shared this – that historically what has happened, and in some cases maybe still, to a certain extent, patients in the healthcare arena who are people of faith, people who come from strong faith communities and backgrounds, at times feel conflicted in the world of medicine and science. And that is due to and has been the history of a strained relationship between the world of medicine and science and spirituality and faith. And it really boils down to or has boiled down to, in some cases, like being a custody battle over a child that’s in the middle of mom and dad fighting over who wants to have sole custody of their child. And the fact of the matter is that the child wants to have the love support of both parents working together on their best interest. And that’s exactly the way that we should view and look at the roles and the integration of medicine and science and spirituality and faith.
First and foremost, from a faith perspective, we believe in a Triune God, who is Creator of all, who has created our physical bodies, and all of the intricacies that go with that from a biological perspective and a physiological perspective, and etc, etc. And so it is right to have faith and belief that God is a healer, and that God wants to promote healing and well being in our personage. But by the same token, God also has given gifts, The Bible says, to men, that helps to facilitate that process, particularly from a mental, emotional, and certainly a physical perspective. And so medicine and science is an important gifting from God, every good and perfect gift comes from above, the Bible says, and that rejecting that, or ignoring that, or being in conflict with that, in many cases can be being in conflict with the will and purpose of God in our lives. So the key here is to create a union and a marriage and a balance between those two disciplines. And helping both parties to understand that when they work together collectively, in the best interest of the patient, or the person, we give them an optimal opportunity to achieve the goal of wellness and well being.
And so that world and that community is shifting over the last twenty-five plus years, where more and more people of medicine and science are open to the idea of faith and spirituality. Many of those practitioners now are people of faith and spirituality. And I don’t know if that was true thirty years ago, where there was a sense of exclusivity with regard to people in the profession who also had an abiding faith and spiritual sensibility about them. And so we have seen a shift and we are seeing a shift where the world of whole person, holistic medicine, integrative medicine, integrative care, may sound familiar to someone that’s listening to your program, that is incorporating all of the moving pieces that makes a human being who they are, and getting them to collaborate and work collectively together and supporting that is really the idea, I believe, of what God is desiring to have done in this current state of the world that we live in. So the balance of those two worlds coming together has tremendous value and tremendous benefit for patients as they move forward and look toward their health and wellness.[WHITNEY]:
Most definitely, and even my listeners right now can relate because in the clinical world of counseling there used to be more of a dynamic. I think it is improving, where some people think, oh, well, you just need to pray about it. You don’t need to go see a counselor if you’re depressed. If the Bible says, don’t worry, you know, and so but then at the same time, when our clients come in, I do the skills with them, but you know what, I bring God in when it’s appropriate. And I pray for my clients. And so it’s that… you even use the word integration there, like, that’s the same kind of lingo that I use is that we’re integrating faith and the talents, the skills that we have as clinicians, that we’ve learned in graduate school, and kind of bringing those worlds together is the perfect mix in helping faith based people get better. [REV. MCCRAY]:
Well, and to that point, Whitney, what’s interesting – and you’re exactly right, particularly with regard to the discipline of psychology, and emotional support – there was a time in the faith community that that was taboo, to consider having discussion, or counseling, or sitting down with someone beyond just talking to your pastor, and beyond just “praying away” your troubles and your issues. And we have definitely seen a shift with regard to the faith community, the Christian community, and etc, that are now much more open to the idea, and I think understanding how those two worlds can merge and mesh together and be of value and benefit. As a matter of fact, one of the earlier conferences that I attended as a young chaplain many years ago, we were encouraged in a seminar to understand that as pastors and ministers, you need to clearly outline a line of demarcation of when you realize that you have done all that you can do from a faith spiritual perspective only, and then have a good set of resources and references of professional, clinical, Christian or faith based counselors that then you could turn over or transition that person to, so that you don’t commit what I call spiritual malpractice in thinking that just keeping that person within the faith camp, and not encouraging them to look toward some other more skilled clinical approaches, we were really doing them a disservice. And so we are definitely in a very different era where I think that that is much more open and embraced today, and thank God for that. [WHITNEY]:
Most definitely, yeah. Even as clinicians, a lot of times, if our clients come in with a lot of theological questions, I encourage people, get your client to contact their pastor about the theology questions and work alongside the pastor, get the release. Y’all be talking about the clients that you can both benefit the clinical part and spiritual part, because when they go hand in hand, we find the best outcomes for clients. [REV. MCCRAY]:
Absolutely. Well, thank God for the work that you’re doing and for your constituents. And so I pray for that, as we continue to build those alliances, because they are truly needed and necessary. [WHITNEY]:
Yeah, well, thank you. I want to talk about faith and doubt. And how do you address doubt? I’m guessing with cancer patients that you’re seeing a lot of doubt creeping in, and where is God, and some of those really tough questions – how do you address that? [REV. MCCRAY]:
Well, first and foremost, the way to really properly address that is to really create what I call rapport and relationship. One of the things that I’ve taught my chaplains and that we teach even within the framework of the Our Journey of Hope Cancer Care ministry training that you mentioned, to pastors and spiritual leaders, is that you first have to create a rapport relationship with people; they need to feel comfortable that they can sit and talk with you, and be open, and be transparent about what’s going on with them. Often, what happens with people of faith is that they tend to have conversations that they want to frame a certain way so that they are viewed as not being less than faithful, and not being a person of faith. And so I think in fear of being judged and kind of graded on the faith scale, if you will, which is a terrible thing for anyone to have to work through. At the end of the day, part of – as you well know, and your constituents – good counseling is creating a safe place, and a safe space for people to be open, honest, and transparent. So that’s the first thing, that there will not be any judgement.
Doubt is a real component. Doubt, fear, etc, some of the things that are more common to the experience of a cancer patient, that when one is told that they have cancer, they have to work through and process through some of those mental and emotional checkpoints. And so doubt then becomes one of them. We need to create an environment first and foremost that we can talk about, that let’s talk about what it is that you’re feeling doubtful about. Obviously, one of the major questions that arises with cancer patients initially, in many cases, is ‘Why me?’. Why did this happen to me? I’m a young mom, you know, I’m a good person, etc, etc. We need to create an environment that we can first just simply allow that person to unpack that feeling and that thought.
Then from there, obviously, we kick into our theology, that begins to try to help counter any of the negative dynamics of those types of emotions, but we’re not in denial about them. I think it’s important not to create an environment where we support and encourage people to be in denial about what they’re feeling, or what they’re experiencing because then they suppress that. And that creates its own set of mental and emotional and in some cases, a byproduct of physical complications that’s not good or healthy for that individual, is that we begin to try to apply systematically our theological principles that begin to try to counter or encourage or strengthen individuals to work through their doubt, and to begin to work through their fear. I believe that it is erroneous to facilitate a conversation with someone that leaves them in a place that because they are feeling doubtful or fearful, that they are still not a man or woman of faith, and that God is not working with them, I think is one of the biggest misnomers that has been prescribed by some faith camps that we need to counterbalance and revisit. Because at the end of the day, everyone is working through – in that environment – some things that they’re going to need some time to, as I often say, marinate, and process through; that’s not going to happen overnight. When you’re told that you have cancer, it is often like the opening scene in the movie of the Wizard of Oz for people; they feel like a house fell on them. And they’re trying to regroup and recalibrate and they need time, they need support, they need patience, and they need understanding from individuals that will help them to get back up on their feet, and process through that mental and emotional set of hurdles in a pace and a time that works for them, and they don’t feel that they’re being judged, or pushed, or shoved, or drug in a direction. And that has to happen with a loving and caring and compassionate relationship, that number one, they feel that they’re being heard, and they’re not being judged.[WHITNEY]:
Those are all so great. These are things that we learn in school, you know, and how to be with clients, but here and you kind of put it in that perspective is really helpful in that I think a lot of times as counselors, maybe even unconsciously, we feel like we have to have the answers, you know, or that we have to fix somebody. And the truth is, it’s not us to do, it’s that space you’re talking about, it’s just providing that and listening is where healing will happen with our clients. [REV. MCCRAY]:
Well, it’s interesting, I associate that principle and that school of thought for most marriages, between husbands and wives – I know it was the case for me. There are often times when my wife wants to unpack, or articulate, or elocute a thought, a feeling or an emotion, but she doesn’t want me to fix anything, she doesn’t want me to do anything, she just wants me to be there to be a sounding board. And I’ve had to learn that I need to allow that space and that that environment of articulation, and let that kind of settle and get expressed, and then simply provide the correct response of, well, we’ll do what is necessary based upon what you’re ready to do, and when you’re ready to respond. And in some cases, she just wants me to sit there and listen and hear her. So again, I think it’s a very profound principle that we’re not always ready to grab our six shooter and ready to shoot at something, at a target. And there certainly is a time and place to address and spring into action, but to your point, I know for a lot of cancer patients, they’re needing some space and time simply to be heard. I say this all the time. It’s one of the things that we talk about on my podcast, is that every cancer patient has a story to tell. The question is, are people willing to be patient, to sit down and listen, before they start to react or start offering advice and provide information that in some cases cancer patients are not asking for at that moment? So we need to be very conscious of that. [WHITNEY]:
Oh, yes, yes. So can you talk about what you do with churches, the training program that you have, and working with churches, Our Journey of Hope, kind of talk a little bit about what that is and what you help churches with. [REV. MCCRAY]:
Absolutely. It’s been the labor of love of my life, it’s been the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. And, you know, some sixteen years now I’ve been toiling at kind of perfecting this ministry. Started out many years ago with a patient at the bedside who I had ministered to, and as a result of some of the things that we were doing internally at our organization at Cancer Treatment Centers of America and allowed to do, I was asked, would I be willing to sit down with her pastor and a consortium of his colleagues, and just share some of the things that we were doing from a cancer care perspective? And from there, developed a little PowerPoint and an outline, and next thing you know, I’m traveling to different churches, doing little conferences and symposiums, and it has grown now to the point where we literally invite – free at this point – spiritual leaders, or we were before COVID took place, to visit one of our participating regional hospitals in our network. We have five networks of hospitals located throughout the US: Chicago, Zion, Phoenix, Arizona, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tulsa, Oklahoma, to attend a two day free seminar training on how to support cancer patients, and how to start and build a cancer care ministry inside of one’s local church. We have a curriculum that is outlined with eight chapters that deals with some of the core elements and aspects of ministry and support to cancer patients as an example.
One of those key chapters is learning how to support caring for the caregiver. It may be a revelation to others outside of your environment. But oftentimes, those individuals who are providing support to cancer patients also need to be supported. And so they often get forgotten about and left out of the mix, if you will. And so we have created some information to help individuals understand that while you’re supporting the cancer patient, don’t forget about their caregiver at the end of the day, because most cancer patients who survive a battle, and a bout of cancer, typically did not do that alone; there was someone in the wings or behind the scenes that were doing amazing things to keep that person mentally, emotionally, and physically moving along that often is forgotten or left out. There are numbers of families and relationships, and you may be able to relate to this, that have been devastated and actually ruined because of a bout of cancer, where marriages have dissolved, spouses walked away from their families because they simply could not handle the pressure and the rigors of the day to day challenges of being a caregiver, etc.
So Our Journey of Hope is really designed to provide local churches and spiritual leaders with practical resources and information and insights that will allow them to go back into their local church and begin to develop a cancer care ministry, akin to the Children’s Church, akin to youth ministry, akin to the marriage ministry, there needs to be a cancer care ministry inside of every local church based upon the numbers according to the American Cancer Society. And I believe the last public numbers that they posted, that one out of three Americans are expected to be diagnosed potentially with cancer within their lifetime; one out of three. And so that is an extremely high number. The good news is that more people are living as a result of a diagnosis with cancer. But more people are being diagnosed with cancer. So we need to have a focus of ministry because many of those folks are sitting inside of local houses of worship, desiring and yearning to have support from their faith community. And in many cases, the faith community really is not sure what to do, and how to practically respond to their needs. And so Our Journey of Hope is designed to provide those resources and that application so that they can go back into their local communities and their churches. And not just for members of their local churches, but people who live in the local community of their churches, and apply and provide practical cancer care ministry to that milieu.[WHITNEY]:
Thank you for sharing all that, it is so important, like, I’m just all about it. So I’m sitting here thinking about all the pastors, I want to tell them about what you’re doing because it is so important. And I knew that a lot of people experienced cancer diagnoses, I had no idea it was that many people, and so what an important need. And so then I’m sitting here thinking, okay, as a therapist, this is important. Like, we need to offer this service for cancer patients to be able to come to us for counseling and whatever we need to do to be a better resource for that. So even as you’re talking about the journey of hope, I’m almost like, we need the equivalent of what you’re talking about for counseling practices, where counseling practices can go to a two day seminar and learn how do I create a group practice to be able to meet the needs of cancer patients, and to be able to partner with cancer organizations on a national level, but even on a local level, I mean, patients are in the hospital right here that are needing services. And so it’d be really… [REV. MCCRAY]:
It’s a great idea. Yeah, you’re right. And you can run with that school of thought, because again, it is applicable, for sure. Because certainly one of the things that that community is looking for, because they’re bombarded… because I say this all the time, cancer patients have no dress rehearsal for being a cancer patient; it comes out of nowhere and they’re blindsided. And so they’re just trying to kind of pull it together and in many cases, do they have the necessary community resources and relationships that, particularly from a faith perspective, that will lend itself specifically to that conversation and the unique needs of that community? And so that would be a great opportunity for you, and your colleagues, and your constituents. But Our Journey of Hope is designed to do just that from a pastoral and a ministerial perspective. For churches and pastors who are interested, again, the program is free. At this point, we’re doing all virtual trainings, which is pretty nice. And you can go to our website to register at ourjourneyofhope.com. And you can look at our calendar, and you can attend any of our upcoming free virtual trainings that will provide that information to you. [WHITNEY]:
That’s so great, because even a counselor, we all play kind of the same roles in a lot of ways. Different ways, and a lot of the same ways, that we kind of feel like pastors in a way, and then pastors kind of feel like counselors in a way. And so I think that therapists could even benefit from that training. And I’ve even found that a lot of pastors literally are therapists, even someone at my practice, he has a church here in town, and he’s also one of the counselors. Yeah, so we go hand in hand a lot.
I wanted to share with the audience another reason that we wanted to kind of talk about this is my practice actually has partnered with an organization here in Savannah called The Cure, and it’s to help children with childhood cancer. It’s an amazing program, they partner with the counseling center and offer therapy, and they pay for the cancer patients and their families. So either the child can come, or just like you’re talking about, the other family members – sometimes we see a sibling of a cancer patient, or we see a parent, or sometimes they’re in recovery, you know, they’re in remission, I guess I should say. And so we work with those families as well because we do have to provide a lot of support for the parents. And so encouraging counseling agencies to think about, are there groups in your town that you can support?
We were talking right before the show, I have not been able to find a lot of research on if therapy helps with getting people to remission, so if anyone’s listening and they have that research, please email it to me. I’ve only really found one research study that showed that women who had breast cancer attended a psycho-ed support group while in hospitals, and they would – I’m not gonna even try to say the numbers, but I know that they would go to remission faster than the patients that were not attending that psycho-ed group. And so that’s so fascinating. So we as therapists can offer something that helps cancer patients get better; what an amazing gift to be able to offer.[REV. MCCRAY]:
Oh, absolutely. And again, to your earlier point that I wanted to interject that, you know, I want to remind your listening audience that cancer is a community disease; it is not an individual sport. So the cancer patient may be initially impacted, but their family, their loved ones, their children, as you just mentioned, everyone that’s connected to a cancer patient has some sort of impact from that, that they may need to be unpacking or dealing with because again, that is the trauma effect. And so it is a community disease, and it does not only impact that particular person. So counseling, and resources in this area, would be huge for so many, and for so many different reasons. [WHITNEY]:
Yes. And so actually, I’m going to bring up a concern that we see in my practice, and we’d love to kind of get your feedback on this. One of the things that we find is it’s just very draining to work with cancer patients. Like, that emotional toll, the compassion we have, and then as therapists it’s like, we don’t know what we’re going to hear next or how they’re doing. And then obviously, sometimes the worst happens where we actually lose someone that we’re working with that we’ve grown to love. And so I would just like to hear from you, kind of, how do I help therapists that are going through that? How can therapists better work with cancer patients, being able to emotionally support them but also not be completely drained where we can’t do the work we need to do with our other clients? [REV. MCCRAY]:
It’s a great point. I believe the kind of clinical moniker that’s been placed upon that dynamic is called compassion fatigue. And it is real. When you’re in the trenches, if you will, supporting that community just as chaplains, and others – even nurses and doctors experience this – there can become a mental and an emotional wear and tear and fatigue that can take place, particularly for people… most people who are in those type of vocations are people who are truly invested, and love and care for people. And so they do that from their heart and their soul. But when you are inundated, if you will, all the time with that type of dynamic of the potentiality of people not being well, people not surviving, and then just helping to step people through the rigors of their emotional highs and lows that comes with those type of journeys, they can become transferred to those who are supporting them mentally and emotionally; you can take that home with you.
And so one of the things, or some of the things that I’ve encouraged our chaplains, first and foremost, is establishing relationship with someone that they trust and that they love and has some sense of maturity about them, that you can then go unpack your stuff with. In other words, someone that you can take how you’re feeling, you know, you may have had a tough day or a bad day. I know there have been many days I’ve left from patient’s bedsides at the hospital, of someone who has died or what have you, and I really needed to just kind of unpack the impact of that for me, and how I felt, and the toll that that took, the length of time that you spend with family, and supporting individuals. So establish someone outside of your working environment, that you can sit down, you know, a cup of coffee, whatever, that you can share and kind of cast your burdens upon, so that you can kind of unpack what has happened or what is going on with you so that you’re not carrying that solely within yourself; you need to have an outlet, and particularly an outlet of someone that you can just talk to. And again, same principle with regard to the earlier conversation – not that they have any particular answers or solutions but again, a way for you to transfer that weight of that burden that that you are carrying.
One of the principles of the Bible says that confession is good for the soul. And of course, when we hear the word confession, we always associate that with something negative, or bad, or sin. But confession is just something that you are expressing, that you are articulating, and that you are communicating that away from you. And the word ‘soul’ there is dealing with the mind, the will, and the emotions; being able to express, articulate, elocute, or share, hey, I had a tough day today, I had a really difficult scenario and it really impacted me and I just need to talk about that. A safe place, someone that you can trust, and someone that will basically be there to be a sounding board, number one.
Number two, and I learned this at a seminar, you also as a professional caregiver, if we can use that term and that expression, is that then one of the things that I learned at a symposium was that – and particularly if you work in an environment where you wear a lab coat, or you dress a certain way – that psychologically and emotionally, whatever your work attire is, when you get home to immediately take your work attire off, and discard it. When I say discard it, put it away, and then take on this kind of transition of, I’m taking that mantle off and I’m going to set that aside, and then completely dress in a very different way that will evoke, hopefully, a different kind of attitude and disposition. I thought this was a very interesting mental and emotional exercise. And I began to actually do that and when I did that, I was amazed at the transition and the transformation of how that made me feel from a tough work day, or from a tough clinical situation that I was involved at.
And so those are a couple of things that people may be able to adopt and incorporate that will help them to work through the challenges of compassion fatigue. And then obviously, you need to take adequate time off and away from your work that you can unplug. As I often tell my wife, put the car in park and take the key out the ignition and go do something that is completely unrelated to your work, and to your situation of your circumstances of your work, to decompress and refresh yourself. So those are some things that I can quickly share off the top of my head[WHITNEY]:
Well, thank you for sharing this. I would love for you to tell the audience about your podcast. [REV. MCCRAY]:
Oh, yeah. Well, like you, and like so many today, I have a podcast called Health, Hope and Inspiration. And the platform for this podcast was designed about four or five years ago. I started out doing terrestrial radio, and then I saw the signs of the times of the direction of taking the digital platforms that are available, and began to do podcasting which gives you much more freedom. And you can do so many other different things from a podcasting perspective, and transitioned the show into the podcast format. The motivation and the design of the show is built directly into the title of the show, is that we talk with and interview cancer patients, caregivers of cancer patients, clinicians, oncologists, nutritionists, anyone that is involved in the cancer conversation, either directly or indirectly, from a support perspective, to talk about all relevant topics around cancer. Most of our interviews are with patients themselves. Again, every cancer patient has a story to tell. Every cancer patient story is unique unto them. And there are always ‘aha’ moments of a cancer journey that people learned, and it shifted and changed who they are, particularly from a faith based perspective, that we try to extrapolate, and share those moments that hopefully will provide hope and inspiration to other cancer patients who may just be starting a cancer journey, or in the middle of a cancer journey – they may not be connected to a community or a group of support – and begin to draw upon hearing from real life testimonies, and stories of individuals who have walked the walk and are walking the walk.
And then we interview faith based doctors and clinicians, people who are people of faith, who also work in the world as we talked about in the opening portion of this interview. Many of our clinicians today, particularly our oncologists, are great men of scholar, execution, and medicine and science but also deep, abiding faith. And we get to hear from them on how they approach their vocation of medicine and science, but also allow their sense of spirituality and faith to be incorporated in that. And in a correct balance, obviously, of course, that empowers them, and in many cases, how that may equip and empower the patients that they serve. And you would just be surprised by the unbelievable stories that we gleaned from these interactions.
And so Health, Hope and Inspiration – a myriad of people from every walk, socio political economic background, who are sharing their stories of their cancer journey, or supporting individuals in their cancer journey, or providing medical care to individuals in their cancer journey. So we have over three hundred thousand subscribers, and the show is just doing phenomenally well. And so I encourage your listening audience, if you know someone that has cancer who would possibly be encouraged and inspired – we don’t talk about much anything there clinically – but we are encouraging and inspiring people with stories of real life cancer journeys that people have walked and executed that may be of help and benefit to someone, on some level, as they are walking that journey.[WHITNEY]:
Yeah, that’s such a great resource. And even as clinicians, we learn that story brings healing. There’s a whole therapy called bibliotherapy, and it’s all about the client sharing their story. And so, if you’re working with cancer patients as your clients, having them listen to his podcast can be very healing for them. So I’m gonna be sending this out to some people I know soon after we get off this interview. I think that’s a great resource. [REV. MCCRAY]:
Yeah, the power of storytelling is enormous. And that’s really what podcasting is, is really about telling stories and facilitating those stories to a specific audience. So we truly would appreciate anyone that you feel that would be encouraged and blessed by the content. There are some amazing people who are telling some amazing stories that even at times, I get a bit choked up and emotional as I’m doing the interview because, you know, I mean, many of the cancer patients that I talk to, I know them, I’ve supported them. But there are others that I have not personally known or met that just will just bless you with regard to what God is doing in their life, and how God has worked and is working with them in the midst of being a cancer patient. And that’s the big takeaway. [WHITNEY]:
Yes, definitely. Well, I know you had some freebies for the audience on the healthhopeandinspiration.com/resources. Can you talk a little bit about the resources that you have for people there? [REV. MCCRAY]:
Oh yeah. We have a great resource section and everything, as a disclaimer, is all free. We’re selling no products whatsoever. And not that there’s anything wrong with that for individuals who do, but we’ve made a commitment and we’re grateful for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America that helps to finance both the Our Journey of Hope cancer care training program and Health, Hope and Inspiration and defer some of our costs, obviously. But we have probably close to thirty free, downloadable resources on that page. And again, all you would have to do to receive any of those is just kind of give us your first and last name and your email address. That way, we can continue to update you with new information and new resources that will be provided. But as an example, we have a resource there of Foods of the Bible. And what we did is that we took a look at, from a cancer perspective, what were some of the recommended foods that would be user friendly from a cancer perspective, and then we cross referenced those foods to find reference of them in the Bible, and to look at the application of that from a scriptural perspective. So we built a resource called Foods of the Bible that you can have access to. But all sorts of things supporting cancer patients, things that every cancer patient should know, things that you should say to cancer patients, inspirational scriptures, again, how to minister to pastors who have cancer, what do you say to your pastor who has cancer, things like that. So we have just a ton of free resources, please go to healthhopeandinspiration.com. There is no fee for any of the resources, we simply ask for your first and last name and email address and you can access any of those resources, as well as any of our past and previous shows, and you can download and listen at your pleasure and at your discretion. [WHITNEY]:
That’s wonderful. Yeah, I’ll be passing that along to even my therapists that are working with the cancer patients that they see here. That’ll be really helpful for them. And so I want to ask you the question we ask everyone who comes on the show, what do you believe that every Christian counselor needs to know? [REV. MCCRAY]:
Well, I think at the end of the day, and when you read my introduction and my bio, what’s built into that is the sentiment of understanding that every human being is fearfully and wonderfully created in the image and the likeness of God. And because God is so vast, and he’s so big, there are aspects of God that he has placed uniquely in individuals that make them unique than other individuals. And so when we are counseling or supporting anyone, that we need to have the patience to take the time to get to understand and know who and what the gift of God is that has been invested in that human being. And then our attempt, hopefully, is to help empower that person to mine that gift, to develop it, and then to give it to the world, so that when they are finished with their journey on this planet, that they will leave the planet empty, that they won’t take their gift back with them untapped. That the potential in every human being needs to be nurtured so that it can be given to bless the rest of humanity. Remember that every human being is uniquely and wonderfully created in the likeness and image of God. And hopefully, we can help empower that person to mine, to develop, and to give that gift so that they find purpose and that other people can be blessed by who they are and what they are. If we do that on a consistent basis, that’s a pretty full day and I think that we’ll hear the Father say to us, well done my good and faithful servant. [WHITNEY]:
Well, thank you so much for coming on the show today. You’ve provided such great resources, information, but also been an encouragement to the soul as we pursue our relationship with God together. So, thank you. [REV. MCCRAY]:
Thank you, Whitney. And again, I’ll continue to pray for the work that you do, and the colleagues and the community that you serve. Remember, keep chopping the wood, we’ve got work to do. God bless. [WHITNEY]:
You too. Thank you.
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