Cheryl Peterson-Karlan, the chaplain at the Community Cancer Center in Normal, says her job is about listening to people, meeting them where they are, and if possible, helping them find hope.
Unlike chaplains who work at hospitals, cancer center chaplains usually visit with patients on a long-term basis, providing a chance to connect on a deeply personal level. She often meets patients just after they receive their diagnosis and helps guide them through their treatment. Sometimes she officiates at the funerals of those she has gotten to know.
A Church of the Brethren minister, Peterson-Karlan took time away from making patient rounds recently to sit in the Cancer Center's chapel overlooking a well-appointed garden and reflect on her work.
She said she aims to be a "spiritual guide and healing presence for people."
Cancer Center patients deal with strong emotions, from fear to depression to a sense of being alone.
"For some its a search for meaning, for asking the big questions, why is this happening, why is God allowing this happen, why is there this suffering in the world?" Peterson-Karlan said.
She doesn't try to provide neat answers.
"The answer comes from the person you're listening to. As a chaplain, my job is to honor the person I'm working with and listen to their experience and how they make meaning and purpose, and encourage them to dig and explore the answers for themselves."
She said she tries to steer patients from the question "Why me?" to "What now?"
"What am I going to do now that I am in this situation? How am I going to respond and live?"