Evaluating Faith-Based Needs of Patients With Head and Neck Cancer (2022-2023)

This year, 98,000 people will be diagnosed with head and neck cancer (HNC), adding to more than half a million survivors living in the United States. Characterized by significant morbidity and mortality, HNC places a physical, psychosocial and financial burden on a patient’s life and requires treatments that can leave patients permanently disfigured and disabled. 

HNC patients require robust social support to counter the psychosocial burden of their diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. Although a large proportion (68.5%) of cancer patients already lean on prayer for their wellbeing, very little is known about the significance of faith-based communities for patients with HNC from both patient and clergy perspectives.

This project team worked to understand and address the care gaps of patients HNC by synthesizing available scholarship and surveying and interviewing patients and clergy. The broader goal of this project is to propose a paradigm of care that walks alongside patients from diagnosis through and beyond treatment, offering symptom management and seeking patient flourishing. 

The team divided into a patient-facing subteam and a clergy-facing subteam. The patient-facing subteam conducted a literature review focusing on cancer care needs, psychosocial effects of HNC and spirituality in HNC. They developed and deployed a survey directed at characterizing the faith-based needs of HNC patients. 

The clergy-facing subteam conducted a literature review that identified central themes of healthcare privacy as a barrier to connection, clergy and compassion burnout and the social effects of lacking societal understanding of HNC. They then conducted and transcribed interviews with local clergy members from various congregations.


Summer 2022 – Summer 2023

Team Outputs

Spiritual Care for Head and Neck Cancer Patients (2023 Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Virtual Showcase)

Assessing Faith-Based Needs in Patients with Head and Neck Cancer (poster by Maia Kotelanski, Rose Lee, Leslie Ballew, Madeline Garcia, Alexandra Bennion, Colton Ortiz, Nosayaba Osazuwa Peters, Walter Lee, Monica Bodd, presented at Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 19, 2023)

This Team in the News

Lessons from Duke: Centering the Patient Experience and a Role for Theology

Duke Senior Awarded George J. Mitchell Scholarship to Study in Ireland

Graduate and Professional Student Spotlight: Reflections from the Class of 2023


Image: Saving Faces Art Project by Mark Gilbert, Commissioned by surgeon Iain Hutchinson as part of the Facial Surgery Research Foundation

Saving Faces Art Project by Mark Gilbert.

Team Leaders

  • Monica Bodd, School of Medicine and Divinity School–MTS/MD Student
  • Walter Lee, School of Medicine-Head and Neck Surgery and Communication Sciences
  • Nosayaba Osazuwa-Peters, School of Medicine-Head and Neck Surgery and Communication Sciences

/graduate Team Members

  • Leslie Ballew, Theology, Medicine and Culture, Divinity-MDV
  • Madeline Garcia, Occupational Therapy-Doctorate

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Alexandra Bennion, Biology (BS)
  • Maia Kotelanski, Biology (BS)
  • Jeehye Lee, Interdepartmental Major
  • Colton Ortiz, Cultural Anthropology (AB)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Sarah Barton, Divinity School|School of Medicine-Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Buddy Marterre, Wake Forest University School of Medicine
  • Kimberly Monroe, Office of Durham and Community Affairs
  • Daniel Rocke, School of Medicine-Head and Neck Surgery and Communication Sciences