The diagnosis of cancer is difficult to cope with for many people affected. In this situation, it is often not easy to deal with worries and fears and to talk about them with family and friends. Bringing relatives on board, although you actually want to protect them and gently familiarize them with the disease, can be an additional burden. However, sharing one’s concerns with a close confidant ultimately promises relief. Coping with emotions and uncertainties all by yourself is not a solution. Therefore, some medical professionals and cancer patients advise writing down feelings in a cancer diary. Learn here how this can help and how you can get started right away.
Motivation: Why should you keep a diary after a cancer diagnosis?
Putting traumatic experiences on paper can help you understand them better. The forefather of diary research, James Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas (USA), is a proponent of this approach. In the 1980s, he developed the so-called “expressive writing” method. This involves writing about a stressful event for at least 15 minutes on approximately three to four consecutive days. Studies show that this simple exercise can improve physical health and work performance.
Professor Beth Baugmann DuPree, a practicing breast cancer surgeon and adjunct professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania (USA), is also convinced of the positive effects of writing to cope with traumatic events and recommends that her breast cancer patients keep a cancer diary:
“Writing down one’s feelings helps patients relieve stress, set goals for themselves, and can give life a new perspective.”Professor Beth Baughman DuPree, Pennsylvania (USA)
While not many studies have examined the effects of writing on cancer patients. However, results to date suggest that regularly “writing out” emotions may reduce both negative physical symptoms and the number of cancer-related doctor visits.
So it’s worth taking a closer look at the impact of writing.
How can diary writing help cancer patients?
Writing a cancer diary can benefit you as a patient in several ways:
- Better understand stressful situations: Writing down your feelings and thoughts can help you remember how you felt at that difficult moment. This is an occasion to visualize the event itself and get a clearer understanding of your emotional reaction. This, in turn, can help you approach similar situations in the future with more confidence.
- Find solutions more easily: Once your thoughts are sorted, problems usually seem less overwhelming. Decisions can be made more easily.
- Giving feelings space: People who repress unpleasant feelings often give them even more power and energy. Anger and frustration can then become difficult to manage, which can have a negative effect on the body’s immune system. Especially during cancer, it is important to take good care of your body and mind. Writing a diary offers the opportunity to accept reality with all its beautiful, but also challenging aspects.
- Strengthen self-reflection: getting stresses off your chest can help you face the reality of your problems and stay honest and truthful with yourself. This can strengthen your focus on self and self-reflection.
Which type of diary for cancer patients?
Not all diaries are the same. There are different ways to record your thoughts on a daily basis. Decide for yourself which one is the most suitable for dealing with your cancer:
- The diary in the classic sense: As a rule, it is a notebook – gladly selected in your favorite design – in which you give free rein to your thoughts, at best on a daily basis.
- The gratitude diary: Here the user writes down everything for which he is grateful. This draws attention to the small, valuable things in life and can thus lift focus and mood. According to studies, practicing gratitude and recording experiences for which one is thankful can improve well-being. Such a cancer diary helps some sufferers take heart after a diagnosis.
- The calendar diary: one’s own calendar can easily be converted into a diary, as long as it provides enough space for notes. The predefined structure makes this format particularly suitable for inexperienced diarists.
- The diet or pain diary: With a diet diary, cancer patients can find out, among other things, which foods stimulate their appetite. In this type of diary, you write down everything you ate and drank, at what time of day, and whether those foods were well tolerated or caused discomfort. The pain diary allows cancer patients and their doctors to assess the progress and success of pain management. Whether it’s medication use, pain intensity, or overall well-being, filled out daily can help bring clarity and possibly improve treatment.
- The digital diary: If you prefer to write with a keyboard, you can of course keep your cancer diary on your PC, tablet or cell phone. Advantages with this format are that you can always access your smartphone when you feel the need to write something down, and your experiences are quickly written down.
How to get started writing a cancer diary
It’s not always easy to start with something new, but that doesn’t have to apply to diary writing. By choosing the format that is right for you and having the right attitude towards writing, you can try it out right away to see if you like diary writing. The important thing is: just start first. Find a quiet place and consciously take at least 15 minutes to listen to your thoughts and feelings. Write as you feel comfortable, without interruption. There are no rules. Spelling, grammar, or style are not priorities in your cancer diary.
For example, write about moments of happiness or beautiful experiences, but also give space to anger, sadness, and emotions. Capture ideas or people that inspire or move you. Put your heart’s desires and life dreams on paper. Do you have a specific goal related to your health? Writing it down can help you become aware of it and stick to it. Do you feel courage after talking to a friend or reading a great text? Write that down in your cancer diary, too. Of course, you can also add inspirational quotes, pictures and mementos to your diary.
Tips for lack of inspiration
If you’re finding it harder than expected to get started writing your cancer diary, here are a few tips for you:
- Be clear about why you want to write diaries. Based on this, you can create specific topics. These can be: Plans for the future; things to tackle when you are well again; your daily moments of happiness; activities that enhance your well-being, etc. You can put the list of topics in your journal and use it when you have writer’s block.
- Ask yourself: how am I feeling right now? Write in your journal why you are feeling good or bad and how it came to be for you.
- Have you experienced something very painful? Writing about it hurts too much? Try writing from the eyes of a third person. The third person brings the necessary distance and also strengthens the inner observer in you.
- Pre-set diary templates to fill in can also be useful for writer’s block.
- Establish a set ritual for writing. For example, let your thoughts run free over a cup of coffee or tea and turn on your favorite music.
- Find a fixed time to write in your diary and integrate the ritual firmly into your daily routine. The morning is usually a good time to make plans or set goals. The evening is a good time to review your day and capture memories.
Realize that you are writing only for yourself and no one else will be looking at your journal. Writing should help you cope with your cancer diagnosis and support you on your journey. This advice often takes the pressure off and provides access to your own feelings. Here are more writing tips and exercises.
Cancer diary results: achieve set goals and take heart.
Writing has become an integral part of your life and the pages in your diary are filling up? If so, take some time to reflect on all the thoughts and memories you have entrusted to your faithful companion. Browsing through previously written lines often reveals how far you have come and how your well-being may have already improved. The cancer diary allows you to make a direct comparison: how did you feel a month ago and how do you feel now? If you have set yourself personal goals, you can find out how far you have already achieved them. You can draw courage from every little bit of progress. You always have the perspective in front of you thanks to your diary.
Talk to your loved ones about your cancer
It is important that you do not use writing as an excuse for not taking things into your own hands. It should only be used as a tool to help you better understand yourself and achieve your goals. Once you are more aware of how you feel, you will be better able to communicate to your family and friends and make specific requests. This is because if you try to deal with the diagnosis alone, without talking to anyone about it, it will be hard for your family and friends to know how to support you. Ultimately, you can decide what to disclose and to whom. Cancer is a very individual experience and everyone needs to find his/her own way to best cope. Cancer diary writing can possibly be a support for many, but for others it is not the right thing to do. It is best to find out for yourself whether or not you can draw strength and energy from it. The Peer Support Network is here to support you.