A new study adds to existing evidence that writing can benefit people with cancer.
Researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center examined quality of life benefits of a so-called expressive writing intervention for patients with renal cell carcinoma, and found that it reduced cancer-related symptoms and improved physical functioning.
Earlier research into the benefits of expressive writing for people with cancer found that women with breast cancer who wrote about their deepest thoughts and feelings reported the fewest symptoms and had the fewest unscheduled visits to their doctors.
People who keep journals know that writing can help you figure things out. Sometimes it just takes the pressure off. But writing can also lead to changes in behavior and attitude, and even improve happiness.
During leukemia treatments at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, I often wrote my thoughts down in a journal that a friend had given me. I wrote big thoughts and little thoughts. Often, I used it as a way to say something I didn’t feel like saying out loud.
For example, I remember one day when I dragged my IV pole downstairs to what was called “The Pike,” the long corridor connecting the hospital offices (named after the nearby Massachusetts Turnpike).
While walking back and forth, I passed an alcove where people were laughing and talking. I wrote in the journal about how upset I was that they were so happy while I was in so much pain.
This is undoubtedly why there are so many cancer blogs and so much interest in cancer and writing. For example, there is a program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in which patients work with professional writers to create pieces that are later staged by professional actors.
Here are some suggestions:
Figure out the best way for you to get the words out. Although most of us do our writing on a keyboard, good old-fashioned pen and paper might help personal thoughts flow more freely. Some people get hung up when they see it on a computer screen.
Make writing part of your routine. I usually write in the morning while having coffee. If I write at night, I get over-stimulated and have trouble falling asleep. However, that only happens when I type. Jotting down thoughts in my journal is a different matter and can actually help calm my mind before sleep.
Write what's on your mind, not just a list of the day's events. You might start by jotting down notes about your doctor’s appointments and upcoming treatment, and then step back and write about your feelings. You could also describe a scene, such as the one like mine where I came across the cheerful people in the hospital, and use it as a springboard for writing your reactions.
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