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Managing cancer the ‘write’ way

Trying to cope mentally with a cancer diagnosis, on top of the exhausting physical demands of therapy and recovery, can overwhelm even the most durable patient.

That’s why many therapists recommend journal keeping as an effective way for patients to handle their innermost feelings during their life’s crisis. Journals are powerful therapeutic outlets for the stress, anger and fear that often accompany cancer.

Controlling anxiety is important because emotional upheaval weakens the immune system. It also can set the stage for conditions that will worsen the course of the illness, such as heart disease and depression.

On the bright side, research shows that patients who relieve their anxiety feel more in control of their illness and can improve their chances for a full, speedy recovery.

A personal account

A cancer journal traces patients’ emotional and spiritual battle with the disease. That’s a big topic—and dealing with painful, dire events can be intense. But with professional assistance from a counselor, a social worker or the local cancer organization, patients find their inner voice and the perspectives they need to keep fighting the disease.

Some journal keepers use this therapy as a strictly private, intimate account of how they feel about themselves, their wants and needs, or how their lives have been changed by their cancer treatment. Others use their journals as open books, saying in writing what perhaps is difficult to say in words so it can be shared with loved ones.

No experience necessary

Either way, a journal functions as both an escape valve and a circuit breaker. It helps bring troubling thoughts or feelings to the surface, where they can be broken apart and examined instead of “stuffed.” At the same time, a journal gives patients a way to gain control of their emotions and stop their endless worry and confusion.

Better yet, journal keeping requires no special skills and doesn’t follow any particular format. A journal can be formal, like a diary, or informal, like a letter to yourself. It can be philosophical, angry, serious or inquisitive—just as long as it lets deep-seated feelings out and replaces them with a sense of calm.

Doctors say journal writing is one of several proven ways to handle the mental and emotional challenges of a cancer diagnosis. Some others include:

  • Daily treats. Doing just one enjoyable thing every day—calling a friend, taking a car ride, watching a favorite TV program—bolsters a patient’s spirit and eases the mind.
  • Smiles. Laughter and a sense of humor help people tackle stress and bridge moments of doubt. It’s also a proven stress reducer.
  • Relaxation. Many techniques help patients unwind. Among the most helpful: deep breathing; muscle stretches; visualizing a quiet, happy time; meditation; yoga; massage therapy; and biofeedback.