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Journaling Benefits Cancer Patients, Caregivers

CancerWise - July 2007

Journal writing provides a safe and private way for you to express and sort through your emotions, whether you are a cancer patient or a caregiver. It allows you to come to terms with cancer at your own pace, in your own way.

“Our culture seldom allows us to voice our real feelings,” says Sandi Stromberg, who facilitates journaling sessions at M. D. Anderson’s Place … of wellness. “So I encourage patients and caregivers to process what they are experiencing — to write down their anger and sadness, their frustrations and fears. I also suggest they write down three things they are grateful for at the end of the day, even if it’s something small like a good cup of coffee or less traffic on the road.”

How do I start journaling?

Follow these steps to help you get started:

Make a plan – Choose a convenient time of day. Then make a goal to write for 15 minutes, two days a week. Once that becomes a routine, try adding a day.

Find a spot – Choose a comfortable, private place where you can focus on your thoughts.

Start writing – Write down whatever comes to mind. Don’t edit yourself. If you are stuck, write “I don’t know what to write” over and over. Eventually, other words will come.

Once you are comfortable journaling, do not limit yourself to certain days or times. Some people journal while waiting for appointments. It helps to calm nerves and pass the time.

Cancer is only one chapter of your life

Journal entries might include:

  • Past experiences (your first car, first day of school)
  • Unexpected humor of daily life
  • Simple insights and observations

Don’t feel pressured to tell the whole story. You can always expand later.

“In my sessions I give patients and caregivers topics like these to remind them they were fully functional people with productive lives before cancer," Stromberg says. "It’s so easy for them to tell about who they are in terms of their illness when the truth is that they are and have been so much more. Journaling helps them remember that.”


© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center