Friday, January 30, 2009

How Simply Writing Can Help Cancer Patients

A study published in the journal ‘The Oncologist’ in the February issue of last year supports the notion that expressive writing is effective in easing the stress of cancer. Cancers are by far one of the most dreaded medical conditions and coping with the disease can be quite stressful. Aside from the physical stress the body endures from the malady and from the various treatments viz. chemotherapy (treatment with pharma drugs), radiotherapy, etc, an individual has to cope with myriad lifestyle adjustments that induce a lot of stress.

This study indeed raises hopes that an activity as simple as expressive writing aids the individuals suffering by alleviating psychological stress arising out of the condition. Cancer is a disease that affects young and old, rich and poor and every one around the world. For example, In the year 2005 alone, the world witnessed about 7.6 million individuals becoming terminally ill with the disease. However the brighter aspect is that about 40% of all cancers are preventable and many are treatable and curable if caught early enough.

The Study

The study engaged patients in writing sessions of 20 minuets and it was found that is aided them to alter the way they thought and felt about their condition. Furthermore, this changed perception actually helped them in enhancing their quality of life.

Though, writing studies have been carried out on cancer patients before, the difference with this study was that it was conducted in a normal clinic environment as against in lab settings. Further, many writing studies involved healthy college students as subjects.

Expressive writing in the study entailed patients with leukemia and lymphoma writing about their innermost thoughts and feelings about how the disease has had and effect on them. When they were surveyed after the exercise most of them (about 50%) reported thinking and feeling differently about their condition. Further, when the exercise was repeated after three weeks an even greater number reported thinking that way (approx. 54%). On the other hand simply writing about the facts didn’t seem to have an effect on thinking patterns, the researchers found.

The following is an example of writing from the Arts and Humanities Program’s clinical weekly writing program:

The most promising finding however was that all the patient who had reported a change in their thought patterns about the disease also fared better on a quality of life measurement scale after they underwent the writing exercises.

Additionally, there were positive changes expressed in the patients’ writings as well. Many of the changes included feelings about their family, spirituality, work and the future. One patient wrote "Don't get me wrong, cancer isn't a gift, it just showed me what the gifts in my life are."

Some of the words indicative of a transformation were:

A theory explaining the finding suggests that expressing their thoughts about their chronic medical condition causes psychological as well as physiological changes to occur. However, researchers also believe that that there's a whole array of reasons why expressive writing benefits.

Benefits go beyond cancer

The benefits of expressive writing are not confined to cancer patients only. Several other researches on the topic have revealed that it helps in numerous medical conditions such as asthma, arthritis and pelvic pain. Other studies indicate the benefits to be an improved immune system, pain relief - what a way to relieve pain without a pain relief drug.

While writing research isn’t new and it has been conducted for the past 20 years or so, it’s now time to bring the benefits out to the patients. Not only has writing been found to be effective, it’s perhaps the most cost-effective means of coping.

Another question that arises is, whether the benefits of writing are confined only to those suffering from chronic and challenging medical conditions? Given the evidence of research carried out, it appears that simply writing about intensely positive experiences helps too. A study published by the Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri found that writing about IPEs or intensely positive experiences was associated with enhanced positive mood, and it was also linked to fewer health center visits for illness. Health benefits of writing have also been echoed by in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, by University of Texas researchers James Pennebaker, and Janet Seagal.

In order to reap the benefits of writing you don’t have to wait, you can begin writing right away. You might begin with short sessions of 15 – 20 minuets and increasing the time you spend writing, as you become comfortable with the activity. If you’re attempting to journal for the first time you could have some doubts in your mind but all you have to do is to express yourself and leave aside any fears and inhibitions. With a little practice, fluidity would come to your writing by itself. The only instruments you need for it are a pen and a journal or you might even choose to blog your way to expressing yourself.

Posts, Possibly of Interest

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Do Vitamin Supplements Prevent Cancer?

How Some Vegetables Fight Cancer

Cough Drug Ingredient May Treat Prostate Cancer

Smoking May Up Colorectal Cancer Risk & Death

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