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12 Tips to Journal Your Way Through Cancer, or Anything

12 tips to journal your way through cancer, or anything.

I love to write. I guess most bloggers do. Written words have always been better friends to me than spoken ones, at least as far as my own are concerned. If I were asked to speak in front of others, I would cringe and slink to the back of the room, but if asked to write my thoughts for the same group, no problem.

Since my cancer diagnosis, I find writing to be a very tangible, therapeutic tool.

Writing forces me to think more clearly. Writing gives me a sense of purpose. Writing revitalizes me and almost always makes me feel better. Writing is visual proof I have accomplished something. Writing gives me confidence and inspires me to write more.

The down side of writing is I often wake up in the middle of the night and my writer brain kicks into gear before I fall back asleep. I can’t seem to stop ideas from tumbling around in my head. Sometimes I do get good ones, and I probably should write them down immediately, but I’m pretty sure turning on the light to do so would be highly annoying to Dear Hubby. I just try to remember and write them down when I get up.

Besides, if I did get up and start writing, I’m pretty sure nights with sleep would cease to exist for me. And a good night’s sleep is hard enough to come by lately.

When you are going through cancer, or any trying time in your life, writing, or more specifically journaling, is a very powerful tool to help you cope, which unfortunately not enough people tap into.

Journaling can help get you through the rough patches. Just seeing your thoughts and feelings written down somehow validates them, even if you are the only one seeing them.

Journaling is almost like having your own therapist literally at your fingertips!

Actually, journaling is a great tool for recording every day experiences of life such as parenthood, travel and work. Anyone can benefit from journaling. Even ordinary things that now feel mundane, might later be precious memories.

Through the years, I have kept numerous diaries or journals. Growing up, it seemed I started a new diary each year, always promising to write faithfully. Some years I did and some I did not. A few of those diaries are still locked, continuing to safe guard secrets of my youth. Even now, all these years later, I hesitate to unlock them. It almost feels wrong somehow.

I’m thankful for the safe sanctuary writing provides me. I’m not sure how I could cope without writing. Writing IS how I cope. That’s an empowering statement, is it not?

 12 tips to journal your way through cancer, or anything

1.  Decide what format you want to use. I still like to purchase a journal in book form because I like an actual visual “container” for my thoughts. Plus, a journal in book or notebook form has a more intimate feel to it. Also, a person’s personality comes through in their penmanship. That’s an added touch to your journal when it’s finished. However, if you prefer, you can certainly use your computer.

2.  Try to set aside a few minutes each day or at least a few times each week to journal, so you get into the habit of writing. It doesn’t have to be the same time of day.

3.   Decide if your journal will be for your eyes only, or if others will eventually be allowed to read it.

4.   It sounds obvious, but date each entry. Our memories fade fast and we won’t remember them.

5.   If you have trouble getting started, simply record the date, weather, news events or family happenings and record your reactions to them.

6.   Join an online journaling group or take a community education class.

7.   Think of journaling as another exercise, one for your mind. You are NOT wasting time!

8.   Tell yourself you are creating a learning tool for yourself or a visual recording of your own personal history.

9.   Try playing relaxing music or lighting a candle while you write.

10.  Don’t judge what you write, just write…

11.  Make up prompts for yourself. For example, visualize yourself in retirement, on vacation, finished with chemo or living a life without cancer.

12.  Be honest about your hopes, fears, dreams, frustrations and well, everything. Otherwise, what’s the point?

After journaling for a period of time, go back and reread your entries. If you have been honest, you just might be astonished by how much you have grown. You may be surprised how well you’ve done, all things considered. Most importantly, I hope, like me, you will have discovered a love for journaling!

So, those are my 12 tips for journaling through cancer, or anything.

What are yours?

Do you keep a journal? 

Did anyone ever read your journal/diary without your permission?

What is your greatest stumbling block when writing?

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12 Tips to #Journal Your Way Through Life's Challenges #writing #journaling

Liz Johnson

Wednesday 25th of March 2020

Great post Nancy! I am an avid morning pages writer, using a spiralbound notebook and pen. I try to write 3 pages each morning, using the last page to make a list of things I'm grateful for which helps move me past the angst of things I've been writing about in the previous two pages. I haven't gone through past journals in a while. Thanks for the tip! Will have to take a look back. Could be a good blog post: The things I worried about precancer that are trivial to me now.


Friday 27th of March 2020

Liz, Wow, three pages every morning, that's impressive! I'm trying to get back to journaling; I haven't done much since my diagnosis. Thank you for reading and taking time to comment too.


Wednesday 27th of June 2018

Nancy, I have journaled all my life, but until recently, always held some things back--those dark things I was afraid someone would judge me for should they happen to read them, now, or after my death. Then I started burning my journals. I had read somewhere about burning such things to rid yourself of the negatives clinging on because you still had those thoughts in writing. I don't know about that, but after I burned them, I felt much freer to write exactly what I thought, and let those really dark things you're not supposed to even think out on paper. It has helped me so much! Maybe it's just knowing that no one will read them and form opinions about me after I die, I don't know, but burning journals after a few years has been very therapeutic and helpful for me.


Wednesday 28th of November 2018

That has been my experience exactly! You can never be sure that no one will read your journal, no matter if it is paper or digital, now or when you are gone. I use my journal most to process the bad things—much less gets written when life is good. So I was always afraid that my great grandchildren or whoever would think me to have bern this incredibly negative person. And we all think awful things that we would never say or act on—I never wrote them because I felt I would be judged harshly for even having such thoughts. Now I can get those feelings off my chest and that really helps to let them go. I am no longer worried about someone seeing them because I know they will be burned, and if it’s something I feel is really awful, I burn just those pages right away. Both the writing and the burning are immensely helpful.


Thursday 28th of June 2018

Ellen, Gosh, I don't think I could ever bring myself to burn diaries or journals. But if that makes you feel more free or helps you in some way, that's great. After I'm dead and gone, I don't really care what people find or read about me. Ha. Not sure what that says. I like looking back at dark times and thoughts I've written too - and it's not like there have been that many. I just can't burn words - mine or anyone else's. But that's just me. BTW, this would make an interesting blog post topic, don't you think? Thank you for sharing.


Wednesday 25th of February 2015

I'm having trouble journaling. I kept a journal when our precious only child got a brain tumor. He is doing all right. They got the tumor, which was benign but he was left with epilepsy. He went through a clinical study and now has a neurotransmitter that has so far stopped his seizures for 10 years. We are so grateful to God and Jesus. But it was not easy journaling. So much info given by drs. so quickly. Now my husband has cancer, Lymphoma, and I am again journaling. Again, so much info I can not keep up with all they say. So, I am hoping they will let me tape office visits and such so I can enter the info in my journals. It is frustrating not being able to get all the info down and having them say, no, we did not say that when I have it in my journal. Taping with my IPad would help so much but I am not sure they will let me.


Wednesday 25th of February 2015

Marian, I'm sorry about all you've been through. It's a lot. For me, journaling isn't just about recording what's said during medical appointments. It's also about writing down how you are feeling as a care giver. Your life has been drastically impacted as well. So maybe separating the two kinds of journaling would be helpful. Have one notebook for the appointments and doctor-type stuff and another for just your personal thoughts and reflections. I think many doctors are quite receptive to recording what's said at appointments as well. It's hard to keep up sometimes. If they are not, ask them to slow down, repeat things, or clarify when you don't understand somethng. You deserve nothing less. Good luck and keep us posted.

Finding Our Courage Through Journaling | inlovewithjournals

Tuesday 3rd of June 2014

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Heidi Bright, MDiv

Saturday 2nd of November 2013

Nancy, I enjoyed this post. Writing can be really healing and can help us grow in self-understanding. I've filled more than 60 blank journal books since I was 8. I love picking out new blank books with lovely covers, and enjoy filling them up. Thanks for sharing about your process.


Sunday 3rd of November 2013

Heidi, Wow - that is a lot of journal books you've filled up! That's truly impressive. I bet it's pretty fun to go back and read through them from time to time. What an amazing gift to give yourself, and your family if you choose to share them. Thanks for the motivation to keep journaling!

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