Powerful Ideas For A Successful Breast Cancer Healing Journal

WritingKeeping a JOURNAL during the process of healing is very important. I know many of you get scared of a blank page starring back at you or some of you might be thinking, “are you off your rocker?, I don’t want to remember this.” I imagine that you are having feelings and through ts that are at times overwhelming. I also imagine that your head is spinning in many directions at once. As a person in treatment you have entered a territory that you have never explored and you have already experienced a lot of trauma as a result. A JOURNAL becomes your friend, confident, and safe place.

  • A JOURNAL invites you to tell “it” all about whatever is going on inside of you.
  • You can tell your JOURNAL anything. If you choose a composition book instead of a pretty hard-back JOURNAL you can even tear out the pages that scare you when you re-read it.
  • Your JOURNAL becomes your witness to your life. Because of the personal trauma that is involved in treatment, there are going to be some days that become a blur and many details that you will not remember later. You may find yourself thinking three years from now, “what was the big deal?”
  • Your JOURNAL witnessed this very big deal and will recount it to you for years to come.
  • A JOURNAL is a way of witnessing and validating your strength, your courage, and your scary places.

Doctor Recommended Ideas For Breast Cancer JournalingHaving a diagnosis of breast cancer, is like you have been hit on the head with the window in the Wizard of Oz and have found yourself in a strange land where flying monkeys taunt you and a wicked witch wants your dog (intuition) and your red shoes(a symbol of your inner magic).
Writing every day, even if it is a one word entry such as “hopeless,” will help you keep track of your journey and provide you with stepping stones along the way. Here are some journal exercise examples:

  1. Feel free to just record a word every day for those of you who cannot imagine writing a whole page. Another way to get that blank page to warm up is to write letters. You can write letters to yourself, your God, your friends and family members.
  2. Letter writing in a JOURNAL is safe because you are never going to send it. You will not have to edit what you say. You can tell it like it is. If you think a friend has let you down in this process, journal that feeling out in a letter.
  3. If you think someone who you never expected has stepped up to the plate in wonderful ways, gush out your thanks and gratitude. Let your tears of gratitude flow.
  4. Whatever it is that you wish you could tell your friends or family about this journey but just can’t quite find the courage to tell them, write it in your JOURNAL.

Having a safe and private place to write your most intimate feelings is so important because so much is going through your head and clouding your heart right now. You are in survivor’s mode and the brain is not able to process it all. That is why your JOURNAL becomes your written record. A year after treatment, re-read it and you will be surprised how much you actually went through on this journey. If you have not ever journaled before now is a great time to start. If you are a regular journal writer, then make sure you keep it up at this time.

Dr. Robin DilleyDr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.

Journaling as Story Telling

Journeling As Story TellingBy: Dr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer and a licensed psychologist,

Story Telling is something that most of us enjoy. There is nothing more mesmerizing than getting lost in a well-told story that takes you from your life and into the life of another. Story Telling is seductive, alluring, and hypnotizing. Journaling is one way of telling a story, especially your story. Ah, I hear your insecurities now. “I don’t have a story to tell. My story would be boring. I don’t know how to write. Blank paper scares me.” Yes, all of that is true. So was learning to walk scary when you were a baby but look at you now. Amazing what can happen when we try something that makes us a bit pensive.

It is my belief that each of us has a story to tell, actually many stories to tell. Many women and some men have experienced Breast Cancer and other types of cancer, but none of them have experienced it just the way you experience it. . Breast Cancer created new stories and experiences in your life that you had never encountered. It created many first time events. The psychological research on journaling feelings, experiences, thoughts, fears and hope has been positively documented over decades. It is an easy tool for each of us to use. New research just recently showed some interesting data.

A study by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer published in the Psychological Science Journal asked 50 students to attend a lecture. Half were to take notes on lap-tops and the other half were to take notes the old fashion way, on paper. Afterwards they were given a comprehension test. The results were not even close. The students who took paper notes scored significantly higher. This process is called analog note taking. The question became, “What causes this level of success in analog note taking?” Mueller believes it is due to a phenomenon called “desirable difficulty” which is a small roadblock that is in your path that actually improves your understanding of a topic. The actual process of writing with pen and paper forces synthesis in the brain of the material being written. Thus, if you are taking notes and writing down your cancer journey you are in fact synthesizing it and integrating the emotional piece of this journey with the physical healing. Even if you never re-read a word that you write it is helping you integrate your story into the tapestry of your life.

Cohn, Mehl, and Pennenbaker wrote in their article on Linguistic Markers of Psychological Change in Events Surrounding September 11 also published in the Psychological Science Journal reported that a study of 1,084 regular journal writers in Livejournal.com found that significant processing of language changed positively over a period of two months as the participants processed the events of 911. This study was over a period of four months. Two months prior to 911 to allow researchers to understand the depth and style of the person journaling. Then the event of 911 and two months after in order that the researcher could note any difference in language, style, and depth. The days of 911 and the few weeks following researchers could see an emotional distance in the writer. In the beginning language was difficult, simple and distant as if the writer was just reporting what he/she was hearing. But as the writer continued to process this event language became closer to his/her original style and emotional trauma became more personalized and began to trauma showed a decrease linguistically in the six weeks post 911. Again we see positive evidence supporting the fact that keeping record of your feelings, experience, thoughts, and dreams is a very important tool to self care and psychological healing. Even though this data may not seem particularly exciting to you, I invite you to begin a new chapter in your self-care process during this cancer journey of yours and begin to record on the outside with pen and paper or even on your computer what is happening on the inside. Think about the events of your day, your treatment, your feelings, your thoughts as chapters in your book. Expand a sentence, a feeling or and event into a page.

For instance, what was it like for you when you heard those words dangle like sharp pieces of heavy metal from our doctor’s mouth, “I am sorry, you have cancer?”

How loud was the earthquake in your soul when those words began to fall into your conscience, knocking over every single inch of personal safety?

Who did you tell first? Who did you tell last? Who did you not tell? Why? Were you protecting yourself or the listener of your story?

What did you fear most? How did you avoid your story? Did you put your head in the sand? Did you face it head on? Did you play psychological dodge ball with the thoughts in your head?

Begin on the blank page to tell your story. Your whole story including your secrets, your fantasies, and all of the mumbo-jumbo of thoughts and emotions. After writing at least a full page or twenty minutes worth you can put it away and distract yourself with the routine of the day. Tomorrow write again. One event and memory will lead to the next. Choose a time of day that is best for you to write. Use colorful and easy to write pens. Find a journal or a composition book that fits comfortable in your lap or on your desk
Begin to look forward to your safe place to tell your story. The pages are mum and will keep your secrets. The pages wait eagerly for you to touch them tenderly or even angrily with your pen. Trees gave up their life so that you can heal. Be grateful of the opportunity to share with the pages what it is like to be you and what is like for you to be going through this part of your journey.

If the blank page is too startling for you, maybe you could start with letter writing? Letter writing is a safe way to get your creative juices flowing. Choose someone to write to such as yourself, your God, a super-hero or even an ancestor that has already transitioned to the next chapter of his or her story. If you had a great relationship with a grand-parent, an aunt or uncle or even a teacher along you path, then pick up your pen and tell them your story. Allow yourself to become comfortable with uncomfortable words such as terminal, treatment, surgery and pain. Allow yourself to relish in stories of connection. Who did you meet along the way that made your journey a bit softer, easier, and hopeful. There are so many stories you have to share, stop reading this and get to writing.

Enjoy the moment. Dr. Dilley

Dr. Robin DilleyDr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.

UNITY WITHIN: How To Build An Inner Safe Place

Dr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer and a licensed psychologist.

Unity is a word that is often associated with being together on the same page. However, as cancer survivors, the word “Unity” takes on a multitude of definitions. It is difficult to feel unified within when medical appointments steal precious hours from your days and emotions run the scale of numb to terrorized. Unity is something that must be worked on, developing it from within your being. It is important to discover tools that will help you with body, soul, and spirit. It is important to breath and connect to a quiet spot within.

As a psychologist, I often ask clients to build an inner safe place. This is a place that he/she imagines and creates with all of the necessary imagery, sounds, smells, colors, and ambiance for emotional safety. It is the first tool for developing unity within. Let me help you try it.

Allow yourself to take ten minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the day and sit quietly. You might want your journal and perhaps even crayons. Where is your favorite place to feel connected, happy, hopeful, and nurtured? This place does not have to really exist. You can imagine it.

For example, imagine that there is a place up in the sky that is surrounded by your favorite colors. There is a door with your name on it and you enter it to discover a room with a view of your favorite place (mountains, beach, meadow, park). The room is comfy with a big overstuffed chair, a cup of tea awaits you and the smell of sweet hibiscus fills the room. A candle is present if you choose to light it and as you look around, the room has everything that you can possibly need. As soon as you think of something that you need it appears. Take some time to write down what you see.

It is important to know that you do not have to re-create this same place each time you come here but this is a starter safe-place and it will change as you need it to change and as you change.

This room is very important because it is a safe and sacred place for you to come. It will allow you to get in touch with difficult emotions and explore the many choice points of your treatment. You can write anything in you journal in this room and will feel safe while you do it. Big cumbersome feelings will not overwhelm you in this room. It feels safe to cry here. It feels safe to be angry here. It feels safe to just sit and stare out of your window with a view. You do not have to do anything in this room. The room welcomes you just as you are. This room has enough mystery to it to help you re-connect to your body, soul and spirit.

Next ask yourself where you hurt or are uncomfortable. Send warm breath toward your uncomfortable body. Breath is your second most valuable tool for Unity within. Sit and breathe. Breathe gently in, as if you are going to fill yourself with nurturing oxygen, letting it swirl around in your nostrils and move into your lungs. Exhale slowly as if you are blowing out a candle. Or count as you breath in and out and continue to do so until you actually feel your body relax from inside out.

In your quiet safe place, relaxed by your breath you will be open to hear the wisdom within, that intuitive place that can help you make important decisions about what action steps you need to take. It is this place that you can be with your terror and not crawl out of your skin. It is in this place you can ask for wisdom and hear that quiet still small voice within. It is here that you can stretch your emotions as well as your body inviting the flexibility of life to help you stay open to change and options. As much as the body needs yoga, the mind and the spirit need emotional yoga. Emotional yoga is like learning to sit with your terror until it begins to transform into something different. Sitting is the key to Unity within.

Give it a try. Allow the possible frustration with learning to be with yourself to float away. Now more than ever you need to tools to be in touch with yourself. Enjoy your new safe place.

Photo Source: www.ClearYourMindNow.com

Dr. Robin DilleyDr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.

15 Simple Journal Exercises to Help Breast Cancer Survivors Focus on What They Want

journal Exercises For Breast Cancer

Dr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer and a licensed psychologist.

Yes, is perhaps the most dynamic three- letter word in the universe. Saying YES to life is what every breast cancer survivor and those around them must do everyday. Breast Cancer can be a wake-up call, screaming to each individual, “there is more to life, get up and live it.” Breast Cancer, in all of its ugliness can be used as a gift or a curse and the only difference between the two is how you choose to view it. Breast cancer has the power to make you a victim, shaming you by telling you awful, horrible lies like, “See you did this to yourself. Or you deserve this.” It can wield you into a pile of pathetic “why-me?” Or you can tame those voices like Pi tamed Richard Parker in the movie The Life of Pi, and you can focus on co-existing with this life changing diagnosis, called breast cancer. If Breast Cancer has ended up on your life boat, how you view it will make a difference to the quality in your days to come. In order to make that quality a positive focus, here is a simple journal exercise that can help you focus on what is it that you want.

Please answer the following questions.
Then rate each question on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being completely true and 1 being completely false.

1.)  Do you know that you are the most powerful resource that you have?
2.)  Do you know that you are really capable of living your life closer to achieving more of what you want than what you don’t want?
3.)  What do you think would have to change to make those two above statements more true than not?


4.)  List three things you would like to accomplish as a result to this unexpected and uninvited journey you are taking.


Stop and take a break for a while. Come back to this list in the next hour to twenty-four hours. Circle the one on your list that is the most important to you.

5.)  Write it here: “I want to:
6.)  By doing the above, my life will be enhanced or changed positively how?
7.)  When we change something even for the positive we sometimes have to let go of something else. What will you lose as a result of making this change? What are you afraid you will lose? Sometimes the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. Is this true for you?
8.)  It is important to me to make the change at this time because:(list as many reasons that come to your mind:
9.)  What are three steps you need to take to get started accomplishing this important life-changing step?

1.) __________________________________
2.) __________________________________
3.) __________________________________

10.)  How are you going to start those above steps?
11.)  When are you going to start them?
12.)  When will you get there, (set a finish date) creating this important life changing behavior, goal, or accomplishment?
13.)  What will you need to stay focused on your journey?
14.)  Who will be your support team? We all need a support team regardless of how small or big.
15.)  What might get in your way, prevent you or make this accomplishment more difficult than it needs to be?

Dr. Robin DilleyDr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.

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