Addressing Life Changes Through Writing

Expressive writing or journaling involves a patient writing about his or her emotional experiences. This process encourages a patient to express whatever is on his or her mind, letting hopes and fears flow out. By writing about his or her feelings, the patient is better able to understand what may be bothering them or triggering stress.

Early after my initial cancer diagnosis, I found it difficult to sleep. My mind was like a video camera with constant thoughts interfering with my ability to rest. Finally, one night, I decided to get up and put my thoughts on paper. It was like an emotional catharsis. As I wrote, my feelings were expressed and slowly I could develop a plan to deal with the issues of “watchful waiting”, repeat CT scans, and the impact of the diagnosis on myself, family, friends and my ability to work. My journaling has continued and provides a source of comfort and stress management.

Some studies found that cancer patients who used expressive writing or journaling reported benefits such as better physical health, less pain, and reduced need to use healthcare services. Participants reported this journaling as valuable and meaningful.1

Tips for expressive writing

There is no magic formula or format for expressive writing or journaling. It should be simple, flexible, and meet the needs of the patient. Suggestions may include:

Finding the right place

Writing should be carried out in a comfortable, private, and personal space free from distractions.


Writing is private, confidential and anonymous. Your writing can be “for patient eyes only”. Just express your thoughts. Do not worry about spelling, grammar, or punctuation.

Expressing feelings

Write about what happened and how you feel about it. It is acceptable to write about the unfairness of the cancer diagnosis, along with the anger, denial, and sadness that go along with it.

Affirmations and positivity

Consider including positive entries and affirmations as well. Prompts may include listing the benefits of the illness and how it has caused you to reconsider relationships, work, or religion. Write about people who have provided physical, emotional, or spiritual support.

There is no doubt that cancer is life changing but addressing those life changes through writing can do a world of good. Expressive writing has a tremendous potential for self-help. Give it a try.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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