I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in March 2012. At that time it truly felt like my world came crashing down. I struggled to cope with the realisation that I had cancer. I also struggled to manage the diverse range of emotions.
I am not sure what drew me to start writing. A friend gave me a book voucher when I was diagnosed. I went to a book shop and bought a blank journal and some nice pens. That night I went home and wrote about what had happened to me, and a little about what I was feeling.
My first journal entries, when I look back at them, are pretty devoid of emotion. They are more like a record of what I did, appointments, scans, biopsies and treatment plans. But as I wrote more and more, journaling began to morph into something truly meaningful for me. I started to vent, I started to reflect, and grieve, I started to plan what I would do with the rest of my life post cancer. And my journal became the one place that I felt I could be truly honest. I quickly filled my first journal, and went and bought a second. That too was filled very quickly, and so I filled another and another. My journals have travelled everywhere with me – to Japan and the USA on work trips, to Kaiteriteri on a cancer retreat (thanks Whole Lotta Life) and I write in it almost every single day. Without it I begin to panic.
I write in colours to match my moods, I add stickers to celebrate the completion of treatments and scans, I add inspirational quotes or passages from books that are powerful and meaningful. I do a regular ‘Sunday set up’ entry when I plan the week ahead. This helps me fit runs, yoga classes and catch up with friends around work and family responsibilities. I also do a regular ’Wednesday checkpoint’ where I reflect on how the week is going for me. Sometimes I write to my husband, sons, family and friends.
Journaling has been described as meditating with a pen in your hand. This is not what journaling was like for me in the early days, but it has evolved to be exactly that for me. Sometimes I will write for 30 or 40 minutes, and when I am finished I am almost unaware of what I have actually written.
Sometimes the writing is poetic - it is today. I have woken to a beautiful snowy Dunedin and journaling has encouraged me to drink it all in and appreciate it. Sometimes it is just a few words, or a list.
Every now and then I look back on what I have written and I reflect on how far I have come. I am a different person now than when I was first diagnosed. I take more care of my personal health, I appreciate the little things in life. I think I am a better Mum and a better wife. I am stronger and more optimistic. I care less about constantly pleasing people, and I care more about sticking to my values. All this is evident in my journal.
And one day I will die. Personally I am really hoping this day is a very long way off. But when I go there is an amazing record of my life, and more importantly our family life, left behind for others.
Suggestions for journaling:
· Treat yourself to a beautiful notebook and some nice pens. Journaling should be an indulgent activity.
· Write what you want to write. Be honest. This is for you not others.
· Appreciate that your journaling will evolve. It might start as a record of your day, but over time it will become a source of support for you.
· Some people use prompts to start their writing. You could have a jar of prompts, and draw one out randomly. I am happy to provide a list of prompts to anyone who is interested. Kikki K also sell a 365 journalling prompt resource (http://www.kikki-k.com/blog/365-journaling-prompts/)
· If you come across an idea that interests or challenges you, write about that. I have been reading material from the Happiness Institute and am currently writing about their ‘CHOOSE’ acronym for happiness. (http://www.thehappinessinstitute.com/freeproducts/default.aspx).
· Record what inspires you – photos, quotes, ideas, cards from friends, recipes, poems
· I often do a daily gratitude list – 3 things I am grateful for.
· Write observations of others, write little notes and letters addressed to them
· Some people draw and sketch rather than write
· Keep a log of successes and achievements
· Develop your intuition by posing questions, and then responding to them as if you were offering someone else advice.
Guest Blogger: Melissa Bell