As an oncology nurse navigator and blogger, I am fortunate to experience two of my passions on a regular basis. As a navigator, I get to experience my love of medicine when providing care for patients and their families during the day. As a blogger, I get to experience my love of education and writing by penning blogs during the evening.
Both give me great satisfaction, so it should not be surprising that I recommend to my patients that they write down feeling and thoughts when they tell me they’re struggling with coming to terms with their diagnosis. Journaling is a powerful tool that patients can use to help them cope with the paralyzing fear that a cancer diagnosis can bring.
I’ve had varied responses from my patients to this recommendation. One of my patients who was a closet writer ended up producing a wonderful manuscript that he was able to share with his family at the end of his treatment. I’m happy to say that when his family had the opportunity to read what he wrote, they were so surprised and delighted. They asked him to continue, and he is still writing to this day and loving every minute of it.
Another patient wrote down her thoughts for an entire week and then tore them up because they were “so dark.” I was even happy with this response as I believe the time spent analyzing what she was feeling provided great insight into what was going on in her mind. Words are powerful in many ways.
It was with great interest that I read the article “The Effects of Expressive Writing Interventions for Patients With Cancer: A Meta-Analysis” by Pok-Ja Oh, RN, PhD, and Soo Hyun, RN, PhD, OCN in Oncology Nursing Forum. In this article, the author’s state, “The expression of emotions by writing about one’s deepest thoughts and feelings, particularly regarding stressful or traumatic experiences, has long been a means of coping with emotional strain.”
They go on to say, “Specific mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of EW (expressive writing) may include decreasing auto-cognitive processing of events into a coherent and meaningful narrative.”
It’s the need to make meaning of what is happening during a crisis that is so important, especially at a time when, for many patients, nothing is making any sense. As oncology nurse navigators, we have the tremendous privilege of helping patients as they journey along their path with cancer. We do so in many different ways.
I believe that one of the ways we can further help patients come to terms with a cancer diagnosis is to encourage them to write down their thoughts and feelings. Not only is it helpful for our cancer patients, but as an oncology nurse navigator who writes, I believe it can be helpful for us, too, as we support patients in their efforts to fight this frightening disease on a daily basis.
About the Author
Jenny Marais, RN, BN, OCN, is an oncology nurse navigator for a West Coast health system and author of “Navigating Your Cancer Journey: A Handbook for Cancer Patients and Caregivers by an Oncology Nurse Navigator.” She obtained her associate of nursing degree in South Africa in 1988 at the age of 21. She has years of experience working with cancer patients. She has a bachelor’s of nursing degree through a distance learning program from the University of Dundee in Scotland, and is oncology nurse certified in the United States. She has applied her 27-plus years of nursing experience to the world of oncology nursing, where she shares her insight into the complexity of cancer care in the United States.