Journaling for Comfort and Self-Care During Cancer
by Lynda Monk, MSW, RSW, CPCC
“Even when people are around, I feel alone.”
“I want to feel hopeful, but mostly I feel terrified.”
“It feels like everything is out of control.”
“I am sick and tired of people telling me to be positive or that everything happens for a reason.”
Cancer can be a lonely and scary experience. However, the cancer journey is also a courageous one.
Everyone experiences cancer differently. As you move through cancer and try to make sense of your cancer journey, you may at times feel isolated, alone, exhausted, and overwhelmed with all the changes that are happening. You’ll also experience a wide range of emotions – from fear, uncertainty, and anger to hope and optimism, sometimes vacillating between them throughout the day.
Navigating these complicated emotions while also dealing with complex medical decisions, grueling cancer treatments, and distressing side effects can be difficult. Finding time to care for your body, your spirit, and your mind is a challenge for many cancer survivors.
Journaling Prompts for Comfort during Cancer
The following prompts are known as sentence starters. Pick a prompt that resonates with you, write it down to start your journal entry, and carry on from there.
- Right now, I am feeling …
- Right now, I notice …
- I feel a sense of comfort when …
- I am currently caring for myself by …
- I can access feelings of calm when …
- I am grateful for …
- I am hopeful about …
- Sometimes I …
- The thing I cannot write about is …
- What I need right now is …
- I really believe that …
How Journaling Can Help
One way cancer survivors can practice self-care is through journaling. Journaling can give you a sense of relief and comfort while dealing with cancer. Writing down your thoughts and emotions can be cathartic. Journaling your cancer journey can help you gain a sense of control as you take charge of your emotional well-being during this tough time.
Here are some other ways journaling can help you find comfort and calm as you navigate your cancer journey.
Improve your memory
Short-term memory issues can occur as a result of cancer and its treatment. A daily journaling habit can help you remember events, meetings, and other important things you might find yourself forgetting.
Process your emotions
Keeping a journal can help you manage the wide range of emotions a cancer diagnosis brings. Writing about and reflecting on your feelings can help you better understand and process what you are going through. Journaling not only helps you express your emotions, but it can give you a clearer picture of what they are.
Another way to use journaling is to write about things that uplift you and give you strength. One of the most popular examples of this is gratitude journaling. In your gratitude journal, write down everything you’re thankful for, no matter how large or small. You can go to your gratitude journal whenever you need a positive boost. Gratitude journaling is a proven way to foster resilience.
Manage stress and reduce worry
Journaling is an effective tool for managing stress. Writing about the sources of stress in your life can help you see them more clearly and give you the space to craft ways of coping with those stressors that are in your control. Journaling can also help lift you out of worry, fear, anxiety, and sadness by giving you an outlet to fully explore your emotions, release tension, and make meaning out of your experiences.
How to Get Started
When you’re journaling for comfort and self-care during cancer, there really are no rules. You can just sit down and write what you feel. However, some people prefer writing prompts to help them get started. (See the sidebar above for some examples.)
Don’t overthink things. Just write what comes. As you see your page filling up, be sure to remain compassionate with yourself. Whatever you write is right. You are the expert of your own experiences. Breathe. Trust yourself. Write!
Lynda Monk is director of the International Association for Journal Writing. She is a registered social worker and writing for wellness coach. Lynda regularly speaks and teaches about the transformational and healing power of writing. She is coauthor of Writing Alone Together: Journaling in a Circle of Women for Creativity, Compassion and Connection and coeditor of the new book Transformational Journaling for Coaches, Therapists, and Clients: A Complete Guide to the Benefits of Personal Writing.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2021.