Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools—We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
Two-time cancer survivor shares how journaling can help get you through cancer.
Journaling through cancer helped keep me sane (or at least saner) through my cancers. When something in life is really intense and my brain keeps spinning thoughts around and around, I journal. Long before my first talk therapist suggested keeping a journal, I was privately writing about my angst to get through everything rather than to drown. The fact that my first therapist and all subsequent ones suggested journaling just reinforced that maybe I was onto something — something helpful, effective and less crazy-making than cancer itself.
First, let go of any pre-conceived ideas about what journaling is. There is no one right way to journal. A journal can be hand-written or typed. A journal can be drawn or sketched or even pictures clipped from magazines. A journal can be added to daily, several times a day or simply whenever you need to journal. A journal can be a rant, a detailed observation, a list, a letter never mailed, a copy of a letter or an email someone sent to you. It could also be a travel log — maybe a travel log of your life experiences.
A journal can be a combination of any or all these things depending on what you are feeling and experiencing at any given moment. There are no "rules" about technique, frequency, or content, and if, for some reason, you feel you fall into a pattern or your own "rules" of sorts, remember that you are free to change it up at any time. Typical writing rules of "who (is writing), what, when, where and why don't apply. For example:
Who. Sometimes I need to say it the way I want to say it. Sometimes a quote, an article or a note from a friend says it even better, so if I want, I can cut and paste those things into my journal. In truth, it is usually me writing and I am often grateful that it is for my eyes only.
What. The what, or the content, depends on what I am thinking, feeling and experiencing at any given moment. It could be cancer. It could be household clutter and empty nesting, an argument with a loved one or a thought I can't shake or figure out. It could be a feeling spinning around in my head. Those are just a few what's that might motivate someone to journal.
When. There is no "right" time of day to journal. If you want to make a habit at a certain time of day that works for you, feel free to do that. Remember, habits are things that help us, and rules are things that restrict us. Feel free to break the habit whenever you wish.
Where. Personally, I like a little privacy and quiet, but my family has learned not to look over my shoulder when I am on my computer. Some people journal at home. Some enjoy the relaxation of a coffee shop. When traveling, I sometimes write while someone else is driving. Again, no rules.
Why? Why journal? Ah, here it is. Journal when you have a reason or a need to journal. Journaling is for you. Some day you may choose to share part(s) or all of your journal — or not. I have sometimes had pieces of my journal become one of my books or articles or something I cut and pasted into an email to a friend. Again, all of this is your personal choice.
With cancer, journaling helped show me how even a life event as monstrous as cancer has limitations, a specific number of cancer-related thoughts, feelings, worries, and fears. Journaling about cancer actually kept cancer in perspective. Cancer survivors desperately can use a little perspective and as well as things in their lives that are not cancer. Rereading what I wrote hours, days, weeks, months, and even years later was helpful. If you find that journaling is not helpful to you, also feel free to discontinue journaling. As cancer survivors, we each get to sort out what techniques are most helpful to each of us individually. I just wanted to share an option that has been very helpful to me over the years.