Spirituality in cancer survivorship with First Nations people in Canada

  • Wendy GiffordEmail author
  • Ovini Thomas
  • Roanne Thomas
  • Viviane Grandpierre
  • Chijindu Ukagwu
Original Article



Advancements in cancer survivorship care have shown that holistic approaches, tailored to people’s unique survivorship needs, can decrease cancer burden and enhance well-being and quality of life. The purpose of this study was to explore the meanings of spirituality in cancer survivorship for First Nations people, the largest Indigenous population in Canada, and describe how spiritual practices are incorporated into healing.


This study is part of a larger arts-based project about cancer survivorship with First Nations people. Thirty-one cancer survivors discussed spirituality as part of their cancer survivorship experiences. Data were generated through sharing sessions (n = 8) and individual interviews (n = 31). Qualitative descriptive analysis was conducted.


Three themes emerged about the meaning of spirituality in cancer survivorship. Spirituality was expressed as a complex phenomenon that (1) interconnected self with traditional roots and culture, (2) merged the body and mind, and (3) gave meaning, strength, and faith in the cancer journey. First Nations people incorporated spirituality into cancer survivorship by giving thanks, attending places of spiritual connectedness, singing, praying, speaking to the Creator, and engaging the sun and moon.


First Nations cancer survivors have viewed cancer as an opportunity for emotional and spiritual growth that enabled healing. Understanding the role of spirituality in cancer survivorship is important to develop and deliver culturally safe health services that reduce the burden of cancer and ultimately improve outcomes for First Nations people in Canada.


Cancer survivorship Spirituality Indigenous health First Nations Qualitative research 


Funding information

This study was funded by grant no. 701822 from the Canadian Cancer Society Quality of Life Grant in memory of Edna Goebel and by grant no. ER16–12-209 from the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation.

Compliance with ethical standards

This study was approved by the University of Ottawa Research Ethics Board with file number H03–13-06B. Our approaches are grounded in Chapter 9 of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Research Involving the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples of Canada.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Health Sciences, School of NursingUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Rehabilitation SciencesUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

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