Tips on Writing About Cancer Experience

New research from Macquarie University shows the astounding positive effects of writing about your cancer experience as a breast cancer survivor.

An important feature of the study was that survivors participated online, from the comfort of their own home. This not only increased accessibility and appeal to younger survivors, but it also established that it’s possible to improve mental health issues such as depression and anxiety after surviving cancer without medical supervision or the use of medical drugs.

These participants reported a 30% decrease in anxiety and a 24% decrease in depression for up to three months after the writing exercise. These positive results imply that any survivor could improve their mental health with writing therapy and they can do it without having to leave home.

This does not mean to avoid speaking to a professional when experiencing symptoms of mental health. It is always important to seek advice from a medical professional in these instances.

Cancer experience. Photo by taylor hernandez on Unsplash
Cancer experience. Photo by taylor hernandez on Unsplash

Finding the right outlet for your journaling

While journaling about and through life experiences has been proven to be beneficial, it can make us feel very vulnerable and exposed. To prevent anyone discovering this kind of personal journal and therapeutic writing, a secure folder in the computer will be a great home for any word docs containing journaling. Or, put pen to paper and use a physical journal.

There are survivors, however, who find sharing their experiences beneficial. Even people who start out wanting to keep their journal private might find it helpful to eventually share their personal writing. Some people elect to create a blog to record their journal and share it publicly to help other survivors realise they’re not on their own with these thoughts and feelings.

One of the activities used in the recent study from Macquarie was to write compassionately to yourself, but with the audience of all breast cancer survivors in mind. This is one of the key factors of the study in helping the participants find self-compassion, so if publishing personal journaling helps sufferers find self-compassion as well, consider pursuing that.

Finding the right starting place

Any kind of writing can be hard to start and with such a life-changing experience, where do you even begin?

Macquarie University’s study began with writing about a negative event that the women who survived breast cancer had experienced about their body after having undergone breast cancer treatment that made them feel bad about themselves. They were told to describe the event and how they felt precisely. An important part of this step was to really let go and explore their deepest emotions and thoughts.

After confronting negative experiences, the participants were instructed to write about how they would advise a close friend in a similar situation. This created a distance between writer and subject and helped the survivors find compassion and from there, self-compassion. The final step was, as mentioned before, to write to themselves with all breast cancer survivors as an audience.

If you want to try writing therapy but you aren’t sure where to start, try replicating the study on your own and follow the same steps the participants did. What matters is that you start writing and start expressing your feelings in order to start healing.