Writing as therapy during cancer treatment

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cancer treatment writing as therapy.JPGBy Andrew Griffith

As my cancer treatment progressed, so did my writing journey. Writing during cancer treatment became a way to help me understand, work out issues and accept and come to terms with my fate. It also allowed me to reflect on what my having cancer meant to me, my family and close friends.

As Steve Jobs said, "you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something -- your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever."

Looking back, I can see that my writing progressed on several levels.

Medical: I needed to track my symptoms, reactions and how I was feeling to be able to work with my medical team effectively. Such tracking exercise some control helped me become a more educated and empowered patient. This helped me feel more in control.

Sharing: Having worked in a large governmental organization, I'd seen examples where colleagues were silent about their illness or absence, leading to unhealthy speculation and questions.

My approach was to send short weekly email updates to my staff and colleagues. This way, those who were interested could know what was happening; my email updates helped manage the normal workplace (and human) concerns and questions about how I was doing.

This approach also worked for close family and friends. It allowed people to know how I was doing without feeling intrusive. These short email updates also helped me feel more in control, at least of my messaging. My email updates later formed the basis for my blog.

Reflection: As I continued along my cancer journey, the bigger questions like "What does it all mean?" and smaller ones about working with my medical team became more interesting. I was able to explore these questions in reflection pieces, weekly updates and eventually a "clipping service" of articles that spoke to me.

These broader reflections emerged after a few months of treatment, thanks to enforced hospital and rest time.

Writing for MD Anderson's Cancerwise blog also helped me devise some practical tips and motivated broader concerns. I became more confident about sharing these reflections, with less concern for what others may or may not think.

Journal: I started keeping my private record of what was happening, documenting both medical and emotional developments. This included a mix of the information for my medical team and what I was feeling. I found I could write more honestly than I did in my public messages, and writing things down helped reduce the unsolvable questions churning in my mind.

For the first six months or so, my journal kept me sane and focused, helping me manage all of my worries and doubts, while also tracking information needed by my medical team.

Tomorrow, I will discuss other aspects of writing as therapy during cancer treatment.

Andrew Griffith has mantle cell lymphoma. He lives in Canada and is married with two young adult children. He blogs, has published Living with Cancer: A Journey, and can be followed on Twitter @lymphomajourney.

Related story
Writing as therapy during cancer treatment Part II

Read more posts by Andrew Griffith

1 Comment

Andrew, I am pleased to see that journaling gave you an outlet -- one that you were able to use during treatment. It certainly sounds like you found it helpful. In my case, I was unable to write during my heavy-duty treatment time. I became so depressed that my mind shut down. I am a professional writer and I found it difficult to put even two words together to form a sentence. I did keep journals during those tough years, however, they are difficult to understand and even comprehend. In many cases, what I wrote made no sense. However, in late 2007 I earned a literature grant from United Arts of Central Florida. I wrote a play titled: Chemologues and that piece, done as a play reading in March 2010, brought me out of my darkness. I was able to write again. So, a few months later, I began a manuscript which is now a completed non-fiction book titled: High Maintenance ... Surviving Cancer at All Costs. I am looking for a publisher at this time. I wanted to wish you continued good heatlh. I will check out your blog and would invite you to visit my blog, Marilyn's Byline at It is both an abbreviated, abridged version of my story (a very, very short version) plus it gives me a chance to promote my various volunteer activities for ACS RFL, MSABC and the ADA's Step out for Diabetes. Here's to our continued good health -- and to our passion for writing.

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