When faced with an overwhelming and intense life transition, like receiving a cancer diagnosis, writing about your experiences may be the last thing on your mind. Why give more mental space to something already taking over major aspects of your life? You might rather take your mind off of the experiences, thoughts and feelings of this cancer journey.

Have you ever been laying in bed, trying to sleep, while your mind keeps returning to a certain issue, idea or worry? Did you try thinking about something else or telling yourself to stop thinking? Did it work?

It’s impossible to turn off your brain or force yourself to stop worrying by sheer cognitive will. Your brain is doing its job. It’s focusing on the threats and fears at hand. Many people find that instead of trying to control their thoughts, journaling provides a better sense of relief and control amidst the chaos. 

Living with cancer is stressful in so many ways. It may heighten your emotions, strain your relationships and bring up good and bad memories. Journaling can help you meet these challenges and leave your worries – and the things you can’t control – on the page instead of swirling around in your mind.

“Journal writing empowers you to express your difficult feelings in a safe and private way. It allows you to come to terms with cancer at your own pace and in your own way. Your journal is always there to receive your thoughts and feelings.” – Penn Medicine



Journaling is “an intentional act of honest reflection about yourself and the things going on in your life.” 

Journaling can give you perspective. It can help you understand and accept how your life is changing and remind you of your values and the things most important to you.

Journaling can help you process your emotions. Try writing about the things that make you sad, angry or anxious, as well as the things that make you happy, hopeful and grateful. This can help you let go of negative thoughts and feelings while validating them and honoring how you really feel. You might then find greater mental space for the positive thoughts and feelings. 

Journaling can help you better navigate and manage the physical symptoms of cancer and cancer treatment. Keeping a journal can not only help you track symptoms but help you navigate physical pain. Emotional stress translates into more stress hormones and inflammation in your body. By relieving stress, journaling can help relieve pain and promote wound healing.

Finally, journaling can help you chronicle your journey and remember important events, dates and experiences. You can journal to help yourself remember or give an account of your experiences to your loved ones. The extreme stress that comes with facing a cancer diagnosis can impair your short-term memory and make it difficult to keep up with daily responsibilities. Mental health experts and researchers have found that people with cancer who journal have improved cognitive function

Medical treatments help to eliminate cancer and heal your body. But your mind and relationships can change as much as your body does with cancer. Journaling can help heal your mind during this experience.


How to Journal

There are infinite ways to journal through your journey with cancer. Your journal can be as unique as you are. The most important thing is to journal in a way that is easy for you to maintain over time. Journaling should also help you feel or function better in some way – if it makes you ruminate or feel worse, try changing how or what you journal about.

Your journal doesn’t have to read in a particular way or even make sense to others. You can write short stories, poems, thought fragments or single words that come to your mind throughout the day. You can make lists, write letters, doodle or draw out the visual representations of your thoughts. You can draw cartoons, create shapes with colored pencils or markers, or create a collage of pieces of paper you encountered or received during the day.


Journal doodle Photo by Prophsee Journals on Unsplash
Journal doodle Photo by Prophsee Journals on Unsplash


Here are some journaling prompts to consider:

  • How am I feeling today?
  • What am I grateful for?
  • Write a thank you letter to someone.
  • What do I remember from today / this week? What is something that inspired me today?
  • What quote, song lyric or piece of art reflects my thoughts or feelings today? 
  • What was a thought, idea, string of words, song, etc. that kept coming to my mind today?
  • What is something I’m afraid of?
  • What is something I’ve learned recently?
  • What’s something funny that happened recently?
  • One positive thing – What’s something positive that happened today?
  • What do I wish I could say to [person] that I haven’t said or can’t say?
  • What is a challenge or difficulty I faced today? What is something positive about how I faced it?
  • Describe in detail a moment that I felt good today.
  • Write a poem about today.
  • Draw a picture of a moment or idea from today.
  • How has my perspective on life changed?
  • What sounds do you remember from today? What colors, tastes or sights do you remember?
  • A list of things that make me happy.
  • Describe a random thing that happened today that you wouldn’t normally think important enough to mention or write down. 
  • What is something I would say to someone going through the same situation or experience I am facing?

Don’t worry about perfection. You can scribble, write in shorthand, cross things out, doodle. This journal is for you and you alone. If it helps, buy a journal that already has prompts, or put a series of prompts on index cards and pick one up every day. 

If you are blocked, set a timer for 1-5 minutes and just doodle or write down any random words that come to mind – they don’t have to make sense. Do this until the timer goes off or until you’ve expressed something on your mind.