The is a guest post by Jennifer Miller from the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Many thanks to Jennifer for sharing her expertise on this helpful topic!
For decades, teachers have been encouraging their students to write down their thoughts. In fact, so-called “journaling” has become a requirement in many school English classes.
But writing down how one feels doesn’t just benefit healthy adolescents, says a 2008 study published in The Oncologist. It has also been proven to help cancer patients in the throes of treatment to better learn to cope with their diagnosis and understand how cancer has changed them and changed their lives.
The study, conducted at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University, encouraged patients who were waiting for an oncology appointment to take 20 minutes to complete an expressive writing exercise.
Study leaders weren’t looking for the facts about the patient’s cancer but for words that told how they feel about living with cancer and what lies ahead.
Previous studies had shown the researchers that this kind of writing would have health benefits. The outcome of the Lombardi study concurred.
Cancer patients note that when they took the time to write, it forced them to think about family, work, spirituality, and the future, but not in a negative way.
By analyzing the themes, words, and phrases of the writings of 63 participants, researchers were able to determine that most (60) of the essays indicated a positive transformation in the writer, resulting in improved quality of life.
Choosing Journal Topics for Patients
Potential writers wonder how to start journaling and how to keep the journal going.
Researchers say that there aren’t any particular guidelines writers should follow and that journaling needn’t be an everyday thing. Journal writing should be flexible and fit the emotional needs of the cancer patient.
The writer may simply not feel like writing one day while on another they may write several pages. That’s okay, psychologists say. It’s not a school assignment and shouldn’t be treated like one. Rather, journaling should be viewed as a positive outlet, even though all the writing inside that little book may not be of a positive nature.
If a writer needs some journal prompts to get started, a good thing to write about might include the benefits of the illness including how it has caused the patient to reconsider relationships, work, religion, and other aspects of life.
It might help to write about the people who have surrounded the patient during their ordeal and how they’ve provided physical and spiritual support.
And if death is inevitable, as is usually the case with mesothelioma patients, it’s okay to write about what the future holds.
Some patients may want to write about the rigors of mesothelioma treatment or the reactions they get from strangers who recognize they’re bald and suffering the effects of chemotherapy.
And it’s perfectly acceptable to write about the unfairness of a cancer diagnosis and the anger, denial, and sadness that go with it.
There’s no doubt that cancer is life-changing, but addressing those life changes through writing can do a world of good.
All in all, most psychologists agree that regardless of what lands on those pages or how many times a week the patient takes the time to jot down a few words, the results will be positive and just another important step towards confronting cancer.