Generally improved physical health.
Chances are you already have what you need in order to keep a journal – something to write with and
something to write on. Use your favorite writing instrument whether it is a ballpoint, a pencil, a felt tip pen or colored
markers. If keyboarding is easier for you, consider keeping your journal on your computer.
Although most bookstores sell elegant journals with leather covers and gold‘edged pages, these can
make journal writing seem like an impossible task. Many people are reluctant to honestly write the hurt, anger, sadness and
confusion they feel on fancy pages. Some people find blank books like these to be inhibiting in other ways. Rather than writing
about their everyday lives, they wait for profound thoughts. Their journals remain unopened and unused. Afraid to make a mistake,
others write very little or nothing at all.
Inexpensive spiral notebooks, composition books, legal pads and sketchbooks allow you the freedom to be
yourself and to express your thoughts and feelings honestly. They liberate you from worrying about having to come up with
profound insights and from fears about your penmanship, spelling, and grammar.
If you are afraid that someone will read the words you are writing without your consent, you may censor
what you put on the page. This will decrease the benefits writing brings. Be clear with others about your right to privacy.
Decide where you will keep your journal when you are not writing so that others will not be tempted read it without your permission.
You may share passages from your journal with family, friends and members of your cancer support group if
you wish. Some people decide to revise and copy parts of their journal entries into an elegant blank book to give to another
person. What you share and what you keep to yourself is up to you. Some journal keepers save their writings in order to reread
them or pass them on. Others throw them away. The choice of whether to keep or to discard your journals is also yours alone
What to Write About:
Because your journal is a unique reflection of who you are, there is no right way to keep it. The type of
writing that has been shown to provide emotional and health benefits is writing about what happens to you and setting down
how you feel about it.
During some phases of your illness and treatment you may not have the energy to set down more than a word
or two each day in order to track your feelings and what you did. That’s fine. Every little bit helps. ŒSome journal
therapists call these brief notes telegraph entries.¨ You might consider tape recording your thoughts and feelings at these
times.As you become comfortable with keeping a journal, you may want to use other techniques in
addition to keeping a daily log of events and feelings. A few possibilities are listed below. Experiment to find out what
works best for you.
Write down 50 ways in which your life changed since your diagnosis, 50 strengths you possess, 50 qualities
within yourself you wish you could change, 50 ways you can nurture yourself. While you’re at it, make a list of 50 lists
you could write in your journal.
During major life transitions we often feel a need to resolve old conflicts or to tell people from the past
the things we wish we’d said to them long ago. Often these people are unavailable to us. We may need to express ourselves
to the people who are currently important to us, but hold ourselves back. Writing unsent letters to these people in your journal
is a powerful way to finish old business, let go of old resentments and move forward.
If you are a spiritual person, you may want to try writing letters to God or your Higher Power in your journal.
Many people find written prayer gives them comfort and solace in difficult times.
Write about an earlier time in your life when you faced a challenge with courage, your experiences with
illness as a child or your reactions when you learned family members or friends had cancer. Write about your childhood –
your favorite toy, the most eccentric relative you can remember, your best friend from first grade, your first crush.
Before you go to sleep at night set the intention to remember your dreams. First thing when you wake up
in the morning write them down. Even though they might not make sense at the time, when you record your dreams and reread
them over time, you will be surprised at the insights and guidance they contain.
Collect sayings and quotations that move you. When you want to journal, but can’t think of a single
thing to write, choose one of them and write about it.
Become a word artist. Carry your journal with you to create word pictures of what you observe. Jot down
scraps of conversation. Describe the sights and sounds, the tastes, the smells, the way things feel.
Counting Your Blessings
Just because you have cancer and are keeping a journal, doesn’t mean you are limited to writing about
your illness. Be sure to keep an account of the good things in your life as well as the hassles. Writing down your daily blessings
– a glorious sunrise, a smile from a stranger, a letter from a friend &150; can boost your mood.
According to a recent study conducted at the University of California Davis, people who kept gratitude journals
exercised more regularly, were more optimistic, felt better about themselves, were less troubled by physical symptoms and
had more energy than those who wrote about neutral or negative events.
Getting Extra Help:
Living with cancer is an intense experience. If as you write, you feel overwhelmed by your feelings or stuck
in a downward spiral, try changing the subject to one that evokes good feelings for you or take a break and set your journal
aside. You can always pick it up later. Should the out‘of‘control feelings persist, schedule an appointment with
a helping professional to explore other methods of coping.
Books about Journaling for People With Cancer:
Writing Your Way Through Cancer
by Chia Martin (Hohm Press, 2000, 125 pages) applies several journaling techniques – letters,
affirmations, poetry, dialoging and dream work -- to the emotional and physical aspects of the cancer journey. Beautifully
written, it provides the basics and the inspiration you need to begin journaling. Offering both consolation and encouragement,
Writing Your Way Through Cancer helps readers to view cancer as a catalyst for spiritual transformation.
I have CANcer Workbook and Journal
by Terri Hoyland (InnerSources, Inc., 2001, 140 pages) provides structure for your journaling.
The author covers the spiritual aspects of the cancer journey as well as the emotional and physical. Space is provided for
writing down health information and research. The book also contains stories of how people with cancer have coped with their
The Healing Way, A Journal for Cancer Survivors
by Margie Davis (Clement Books, 2000, 160 pages) contains 60 exercises. Much of the book focuses
on the treatment process, including chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Other topics include What Matters, Benefits of Illness,
Loose Ends and Thoughts of Mortality. Margie Davis, the author, teaches six-week online journaling workshops for people with
cancer. The workshop cost is $30. For more information, visit her website www.writingtoheal.com.
About the Author:
Kay Marie Porterfield, M.A. facilitates journal writing workshops for people in the midst of life transitions including illness and bereavement.
She also trains social workers and counselors about how to effectively use writing in their work with clients. This site is
filled with suggestions for journaling, life story writing and other ways that creativity can be a healing process.
©Kay Marie Porterfield, M.A., 2002