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More Than Pen to Paper: The Value of Journaling for Cancer Patients

April 04, 2023

Cancer. This six-letter word can elicit a whole host of emotions. Fear. Sadness. Anger. Anxiety. Grief. But when and how can one process the emotional stress?

Patients find themselves trying to cope with the diagnosis, while simultaneously rebuilding their schedules to accommodate countless doctor appointments, treatments, scans, and side effects. They also need to communicate what is happening to loved ones who care and want to help.

It is complicated. It is a lot.

And that is where journaling can help.

Journaling and Self-Care

Keeping a journal is a way to capture, share, and pour out thoughts, feelings, happenings, and milestones. It is indeed a form of self-care, enabling cancer patients to find meaning and perspective in the lessons learned as they navigate the unknowns of their disease.

Journaling can provide an outlet for patients to:

  • Express difficult or uncomfortable feelings and emotions
  • Clarify goals as they navigate treatment
  • Figure out how to share their experiences with others
  • Better cope with their illness
  • Find strengths they may not have fully known and discover qualities that may have been forgotten

Health Benefits of Journaling

Studies have shown that journaling has been proven to help manage stress and also can be associated with a decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are common among cancer patients. Research further shows that the act of expressive writing can improve one’s physical well-being.

In a study among women with breast cancer who journaled their feelings and thoughts during treatment, they reported decreased physical symptoms and had fewer unscheduled physician visits. Another trial that focused on expressive writing among patients with kidney cancer also showed similar benefits in the decrease of symptoms and an improvement of physical functionality.

Types of Cancer Journals

Journaling is more than just putting pen to paper. Documenting one’s journey through social media, online blogs, podcasts, video blogging (also known as vlogging), or an online community like Careopolis, which can be set up via TexasOncology.com, that allows cancer patients to provide updates to loved ones, is becoming more prominent. What each patient puts in their journal is a personal thing, and there is no right or wrong way.

Some patients decide to journal in order to keep detailed records during treatment or use it as an outlet to update family and friends versus talking on numerous daily phone calls. Others may journal to share tips or advice with fellow cancer patients on what they have personally experienced and might expect.

Many patients choose to journal as a way of leaving a legacy of their cancer journey for family and friends to read later. This form of journaling can help family members as they grieve by having an outlet to read their late loved one’s memories, words of wisdom, or even favorite recipes. In turn, this allows the patient to feel a sense of contentment in the knowledge they are leaving a little piece of themselves behind.

Three Tips on Starting a Cancer Journal

  1. Start simple. Choose a format that best suits you, whether it is pen and paper or through an electronic outlet.
  2. Find your place. Determine a location or space where you feel comfortable to write and will not be interrupted.
  3. Set a routine. Some may find writing in the morning helps start the day, while others choose to journal to unwind before bedtime.

During some time periods, patients may not have the energy to write more than a sentence or two – and that is okay. A patient’s cancer journal is their own and it is fine to take a break and start again later. The simple act of putting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – to express yourself can be an important and helpful tool in navigating all the twists and turns of the cancer journey.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.