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Journal writing helps cancer patients

March 11, 2015

Journal writing can help cancer patients cope with their illness. So says a New York article by Tara Parker-Pope wherein she tells the story of how her mother took comfort in journal writing when first diagnosed with cancer.

“My mother had always been too busy for something she felt was as indulgent as keeping a journal, but in the early days of her cancer diagnosis, she found that writing down her thoughts helped her cope with the prospect of dying,” writes Parker-Pope.

The New York Times columnist goes on to talk about the study headed by Nancy P. Morgan, MA, writing clinician and director of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Arts and Humanities Program that proves what her mother was talking about. In the study--one of the first published in an oncology journal about the benefits of writing therapy—researchers found that even one writing session in a busy cancer clinic, where patients were frequently interrupted, had a positive impact on patients.

A February 21, 2008 news release put out by Georgetown University Medical Center (home to the Lombardi Center) reports that 49 per cent of study participants, “reported that writing changed their thoughts about their illness, while 35 per cent reported writing changed the way they felt about their illness.” Three weeks later patients re-surveyed maintained the same effects.

Just writing about the facts, according to Morgan, is not good enough. “Thoughts and feelings, or the cognitive processing of emotions related to cancer, are key writing elements associated with health benefits,” she said in the New York Times article. Changes in thoughts, according to the study, led to reports of better physical quality of life at follow-up.

Researchers were also interested in whether cancer patients indicated in their writing that cancer brought about meaningful changes in their lives. Results showed 60 of the 63 texts analyzed contained some evidence of transformation brought about by the cancer experience. One patient wrote, “Don’t get me wrong, cancer isn’t a gift, it just showed me what gifts in my life are.”

If you, or your group, are interested in using journal writing to help deal with an illness or chronic condition contact Sharon about a Journal to the Self Workshop at

*Parker-Pope, Tara. "The Power of Words for Cancer Patients." The New York February 26, 2008

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