How writing helped me deal with the effects of cancer.
Sometimes I get mail, set it aside and think, “I’ll get to it later. I don’t want to go through all of that now.” And over time, I end up with a huge friggin’ pile of mail, that I still don’t want to go through but have to at some point. I’ve also been known to do this with thoughts, experiences and emotions that relate to stress and illness — and I’m sure that many other people with cancer or chronic illnesses do the same thing — put it all aside to deal with later.
I can remember as a kid, for my birthday my parents gave me a diary. At the time I honestly thought, “Huh? You all chose a diary with a bear on the cover over Optimus Prime from the Transformers? Just crazy!” I didn’t know at the time how much of an impact writing would have on me later.
After my bone marrow transplant, in 1998, Blue Cross Blue Shield published a children’s book of mine, You’ll Be All Right, Buddy! I mean come on, it wasn’t actually a “book.” It had pictures and simple little sentences, but it seemed to help people. And even though it was this simple book for kids, it somehow helped me as well. The book was a story of the character, Buddy, who went through the journey of cancer, from diagnosis, to treatment, to remission. The “Buddy Book,” as it was called, had characters named after doctors and patients I had met while going through my bone marrow transplant. Even though the book was short and for kids, putting it together helped me organize my thoughts on some things I didn’t want to think about or had put aside, like that pile of mail I keep at the house, but only bigger.
Shortly after the book was done, I decided to start a blog. And, in my blog, I wrote about my experiences and everything you could possibly think of. Seriously, I had no limitations, at all! I covered working out, aliens, politics, dating, zombies, survival, martial arts and why I don’t like holding babies (it’s dangerous). I also started writing on another topic, one that I knew pretty well—cancer and everything that came to mind regarding the topic. I wasn’t some great writer; I didn’t have a Ph.D. But, I got my message and my thoughts out through writing. I opened up the mail, so to speak, threw out the junk (kept the pizza coupons of course) and took care of the bills… and it felt great. The writing helped me understand, process, affirm, accept and organize. And from then on, I was hooked.
Studies from both the University of Rochester Medical Center and Harvard Medical School have both shown that writing and journaling can help a person manage emotions and improve mental health. So when it comes to getting your head straight, managing anxiety, reducing stress, among other things, why not try something that is totally free, requires no prescription and has zero side effects? You don’t have to be a professor and it’s probably time you sort through all of that junk.