Have you ever thought about keeping a cancer journal? Here’s why you should consider it.
The idea of writing in a diary might conjure up visions of school assignments or notebooks you kept as a teenager. But journals aren’t just for your teenage years. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be helpful in many different ways – especially if you’re living with cancer.
In fact, many studies have demonstrated the benefits of journaling for cancer patients. If you’re looking for a bit of extra support as you navigate tests, treatment, and recovery, journaling might be a great place to start.
The Benefits of Cancer Journaling (According to Science)
There are lots of resources available for cancer patients: support groups, online forums, charities, and experts. Journal writing falls into this category, too. It’s a type of personal support that you can give yourself whenever – and wherever – you need it.
Several scientific studies have explored the benefits of journal writing during cancer. These studies looked the value of “expressive writing” and its effects on well-being in cancer patients.
Expressive writing is writing that focuses on your thoughts and feelings. Instead of jotting down lists of symptoms or logging side-effects, you write about how you feel.
In 2008, scientists in the United States looked at the effects of expressive writing on adult leukaemia and lymphoma patients (you can read the scientific study here). Patients were asked to spend 20 minutes writing about their cancer experience.
When scientists examined the text of the journal entries, they found that many patients wrote about “positive change and transformation” following a cancer diagnosis. Patients who journaled also reported having a higher quality of life.
Why is journaling helpful for cancer patients?
You can be completely open and honest.
Even if you have great friends and family who are very supportive, it can be hard to share your true feelings.
Maybe you are trying not to upset your kids or your partner by sharing your fears. Or maybe you’re working really hard to stay positive about your diagnosis. And if someone asks how you’re doing when they see you at the shops, you might not feel like it’s the right time to share your deepest thoughts.
In a journal, no one is there to judge you or the way you’re feeling. Instead, you can be completely open – and you can write down whatever you’re thinking or feeling.
Some people find that when they put their thoughts on paper, their minds can relax. You might find that this is also true for you. Journaling about your cancer experience might help to calm your mind and stop stress from bottling up.
Some scientists think that this might also help to reduce your global stress levels. And, in turn, lower stress levels might help you to sleep better and avoid fatigue.
You can process what you’re going through.
We know that a cancer diagnosis can make your life very hectic. There are lots of tests and appointments to attend, and that’s in addition to the rest of your normal daily activities. With all the rushing around, it can be hard to pause and really acknowledge what you’re going through.
Making time to journal will give you the chance to slow down and reflect on what’s happening. You’ll also have the chance to check in with yourself. What does the diagnosis mean for you and your family? How do you feel about it? What are your fears or concerns? What do you feel good about?
Reflecting on these questions can bring you a bit of clarity and calm in the midst of a busy and stressful period.
It helps to put things in perspective.
Scientists who have studied cancer journaling talk about the benefits of “externalising” your cancer experience. Cancer is emotional. It can create uncertainties. And it can also bring about big life changes in a very short period of time.
When your life is being disrupted, it might feel difficult to remember the good things that are happening. But studies have shown that when you have the time to reflect, you have space to discover and express gratitude.
The process of writing down your thoughts allows you to see them with a fresh perspective. It can also help to remind you what you can and can’t control. It probably feels like your cancer has a life of its own. And in many ways, it does. But how you respond to the cancer is largely up to you. Writing gives you the space to think about these things.
Here are a few quick tips if you’re thinking of starting a cancer journal:
- Start small – a few minutes each day will help you to reflect and find some balance.
- Remember it’s not a school assignment – write in your cancer journal when you feel like it. If it starts to feel like a “task” or “work,” then don’t make yourself do it.
- Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. Your journal is just for you, so toss the rules out the window!
- Try adding in drawings, poems, quotes that you like, or other creative projects. Your cancer journal doesn’t have to be for writing only – and you should include anything you like.
If you’re not sure what to write about, consider using some writing prompts. Here are a few suggestions:
- Today I felt grateful for…..
- I am feeling worried about….
- At my next appointment, I hope that….
The CanPlan planner is a fantastic tool to help people living with cancer to take control of their disease and find ways to self-heal.
US-based CanPlan is a one-of-a-kind planner designed to assist cancer patients and caregivers with the daily battles of cancer, by providing words of encouragement, reminders for positive living, and a tracking method to monitor the illness day to day. It also includes blank pages in the back of the planner for your personal thoughts and notes.
See the cancer planning journal, CanPlan, in action in this video: