A cancer journal is a record of all the major and minor events in your cancer treatment. It’s a way of expressing what happened and how you felt about it. A cancer journal can really help you heal and improve your overall health.
Research shows that spending just twenty minutes a day to write down your thoughts can have a positive effect on your health over a few months. Journaling is a form of self-care, not just for cancer patients but caregivers and for everyone.
Benefits of journaling
Let’s look at what we gain by keeping a cancer journal:
- Recording symptoms and side-effects: Very often when your doctor asks you when or how a particular symptom started, you are left searching your memory in vain. We tend to forget minor details that may prove to be important. Your journal will tell you exactly what you experience each day, so you don’t have to depend solely on your memory.
- Processing your thoughts: Cancer can be an extremely confusing journey. You are likely to be irritable, angry or even very sad during this period of time. Writing down about how you feel moves you closer to understanding yourself and accepting that your feelings are normal in the given situation.
- Finding reasons for hope: One day you feel so tired that you can’t get off the bed. The next day you feel energised and positive. Your journal tells you that your low days are not permanent. That you have the ability to spring back after feeling unhappy.
- Relaxing: Spending time reflecting on simple things can also be a relaxing experience.
How to start a cancer journal?
For many of us, starting something new can be difficult. If you have kept a diary before, you already know something about journaling your thoughts. If not, then here are some ideas on how to start.
Step 1: Select your medium
Most people like to write down their thoughts as it gives them time to think about something before they put it down. You can keep a notebook for this, or you can start a blog online. A blog helps you share your journey with close family and friends or with anyone else you wish to.
In recent times, vlogs or video logs are a popular way to capture your feelings. There are many popular vlogs on YouTube from cancer patients and survivors. These capture their high and low points at various times in their cancer journey. The viewers leave their messages of encouragement and love for these YouTubers, making the process interactive.
If you are not very comfortable with words, consider drawing or painting your thoughts each day. Art can help you practice mindfulness, keeping your mind away from dwelling too much upon the past or the future.
Step 2: Know the purpose
It’s important to understand why you have decided to keep a cancer journal. A good journal will help you focus on the positive aspects of your life. Going through something like cancer, may lead you to focus on the difficulties you are facing. Taking a moment to recall the happy moments of the day creates a balance.
Use your journal to record pleasant experiences no matter how small they may seem, like a butterfly you spotted near your window, or a funny scene from a movie you saw. Over time, repeating happy memories to yourself will improve your mental health.
In this regard, a popular concept is the gratitude journal. It is the practice of writing down five things that you are thankful for each day. It could be big things like having completed your first round of chemotherapy successfully, or small things like the sprouting of a new leaf from your indoor plant.
Step 3: Make it a routine
Consistency is key. Even if you spend just five minutes with your journal each day, make sure that you do it every day. Only then will you be more likely to have positive results.
One way of doing this is to fix the same time each day to journal your thoughts. Most people prefer to do it just before bedtime so that they can recall the entire day and note down the positive highlights.
A learning curve
As with starting on something new, it is likely you will face a few glitches along the way. One thing you do not need to worry about is ensuring that your language, grammar or spelling is correct. This is not a test of your language skills. So, do not worry about anyone judging you for these.
There are many good examples of cancer blogs and YT channels to inspire you. Here are a few:
- My Cancer Diaries (blog): 32-year old, breast cancer patient Shreshtha Mittal chronicles her journey through diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Since the lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic began during her treatment, you can get a view of what it means to battle cancer during these times.
Here is a video from Shreshtha to give you a glimpse:
2. A New Life (blog): Gynecologist and obstetrician, Dr Roini Patil battled breast cancer while continuing to work as a doctor and be a single mom to her eight year-old son. Today, she is a prominent community builder. Her foundation makes and supplies free breast prosthetics across the country. Her insights on life after cancer are truly motivational.
3. My Cancer Chic (blog): Anna Crollman’s blog is full of beauty, health and all things New York. It’s a pick-me-up on how to feel feminine through your breast cancer journey, even while losing hair, breasts, energy and friends.
4. Too Cute for Cancer (YT channel): Jodi has been living with cancer for twenty years now. She currently suffers from fourth stage metastatic breast cancer. Her channel is full of compassion, honesty about some less-spoken aspects of cancer and simple tips for cancer patients.
Who are you journaling for?
This brings us to the final aspect of journaling: who you are journaling for. The answer should always be for yourself. You are doing this to get better, physically, emotionally and mentally. In the process, if someone else benefits from your experience then it is an added advantage. If you journal to impress others then you will find that it is a two-edged sword.
On a public platform, you might find as many followers as detractors. Negative comments will find their way to the most positive videos. So, remember that you always have the options of turning off comments, or adjusting your settings to control who can access your journal.
Let all of the above not scare you away. Journaling can be a personal and positive experience if you so wish. You might find that it is something you wish to continue even after your cancer treatment and remission phase have been completed. Either way, it’s worth a try. As they say, more good things come to those who journal the good things.