Kathleen Gallivan, SNDdeN, PhD, director, Spiritual Care Services
Stem cell transplant is a treatment for some types of cancer, such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Several times a week, chaplains from Spiritual Care Services are asked to provide a blessing of the cells just before the IV infusion begins. This practice began at BWH several years ago and has continued to grow. Sometimes, the patients themselves ask for this blessing, but often the patient’s nurse will offer it to their patient. Receiving stem cells is a pivotal point in a patient’s treatment. Many nurses tell their patient that this day is like a new birthday, recognizing that these cells may be a sign of hope for freedom from their cancer. Everyone in the room is welcome to participate in this ritual by placing their hands on the bag of cells as the chaplain offers a blessing.
Recently, Gary Strichartz, PhD, a researcher in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, and a pastoral visitor in the Spiritual Care Services volunteer program, was asked by a patient he had been visiting to bless her stem cells. He began with the words “God of life, source of all being, we gather on this day of great hope, holding a source of new life in our hands … ” As the prayer continues, it is personalized for the patient, asking for healing in body, mind and spirit. Gratitude is expressed for the donor, and a blessing is sought for the patient’s family and circle of support. When the patient receives a second bag of cells hours later, the chaplain will return and bless the second set of cells. Patients are given their own copy of the blessing, which they can continue to read during the days ahead.
Patients, families and the medical team express gratitude for this simple ritual. When the Joint Commission was here last year, the surveyors cited this service as a best practice.