Downloading the Details During a Cancer Journey

What happens when health is affected by an unexpected illness such as cancer? Does their quality-of-life decline? Here, one survivor writes how she used the gift of recording the details of her journey to better her life after a cancer diagnosis.

When I was a teen and began my first job, I worked on computers that were as large as a room. Data came out in the form of a ticker tape and those tapes would later be fed into another computer to download the recorded data. It was a tedious process and very time consuming. Today, computers are so fast and innovative it seems they change and upgrade minute to minute. Downloading information is almost instantaneous, even with large files, but not so back then.

Our brains are the most complex of all computers. They can process massive amounts of information while at the same time, downloading other information or performing myriad of bodily functions. It’s an amazing piece of machinery and every day, it processes words, thoughts, and billions of bits of information.

One can’t help but wonder how much information the brain can hold. And just think of all the words it filters through in a 24-hour period. That’s unbelievable!

Those words, whether stored, spoken, or written, hold power. But did you know they can also be therapeutic? Words communicate. They convey thoughts or feelings so others can understand.

The process of downloading doesn’t only apply to computers. Human beings need to download information, too. And that’s why many find journaling helpful.

For the person with a serious illness, such as cancer, the process of therapeutic journaling allows feelings to be examined, analyzed or discarded. The writer decides the fate.

Upon my diagnosis with cancer, I chronicled my journey. It was important to record everything I was experiencing, not only for myself, but for posterity’s sake. I hoped, through my words, someone might receive beneficial information. I recorded mundane details, thoughts, and fears. In essence, I downloaded the details.

Setting aside time each day, I’d journal. Sometimes, I record my thoughts in hardbound journals and other times, I’d jot notes on napkins or scraps of paper. Whenever I felt the need to write, I wrote.

At first, I didn’t realize how therapeutic journaling was for me. It seemed natural to record thoughts but after writing religiously for several weeks, I found it felt like a burden was being lifted. No matter how long I wrote, whether minutes or hours, I’d always feel lighter when done.

Sometimes, days later, I’d pull out my writings and re-read the thoughts. It was easy to tell what type of day I’d had. On the hard days, writing would be minimal. Sad days were filled with depressing thoughts. Good days were filled with joyful, uplifting words. But I always found the writing helpful. Writing gave me a voice. And in the writing, I discovered something. I found freedom of expression, especially with poetry. Without following any hard, fast rules, I wrote, and I was surprised at what came forth.

Here’s a poem I wrote entitled, “Where Do They Go?”

Where do They Go?

Where do the wounded go when the cut is fresh and deep?

Where do they hide to keep others from tasting the bleeding?

Where do they go when healing begins, or when it's too slow in coming?

Where do they go?

Where do they go when the wound has mended?

When scars once raw no longer weep?

Where do they go when the pain has eased but the trauma remains?

Where do they go?

And when the scar is old but still reminds, where do they go?

I'll tell you.

They go where they've always gone, into that dark, quiet place.

The deep space inside where warriors live.

The place of solitude and strength.

The place of sorrow and tears.

The place of resilience and hope.

That's where they go.

How do I know?

It's where I live.

Day in and day out.

Until cancer came, it was a secret place.

But then, I received permission to enter.

That’s when I discovered I was not alone.

There were others.

Invisible to me, but they were there.

Kindred spirits.

We were the wounded warrior women.

The ones without choice in the matter.

But we bore our scars with dignity.

Powerful, right? But if I’d been afraid to write what I was feeling, for fear of scrutiny, I would never have found that creative expression helped me heal.

Perhaps you have words bottled up, waiting to spill forth. Give them a voice. Don’t be afraid! Download your thoughts onto paper. There are no rules, and no one has to see them unless you choose to share.

Don’t know where to start? Get a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. Sit alone with your thoughts for a few minutes. Don’t write until you’re ready. Whenever you feel impressed to begin, do so. Then, just write until you feel like stopping.

There are so many forms of writing to choose from; here are just a few:

  • Stream of consciousness: This is where you write whatever you’re feeling. It doesn’t matter if you use punctuation or capitalization. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense.
  • Art journaling: This is a type of journaling where you draw your feelings.
  • Gratitude journaling: This is a process of recording things you are grateful for. Some find that when they end each day with a gratitude list, it helps them focus on the positive in their life.
  • Line-a-day journaling: This process limits your writing to one sentence per day.

Creative journaling is not only therapeutic and healing, but fun. It can reduce side effects, improve the quality of life and help you cope with your illness. It’s helped me tremendously and I believe it will help you as well.

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