Life following a cancer diagnosis is an emotional roller coaster. Denial, anger, bargaining, and depression are common reactions to being diagnosed with a life threatening illness. Allowing oneself to experience and process these feelings is normal and healthy. There is no set amount of time that is right to grieve, but within a year after being diagnosed, most cancer patients would have come to the final stage of grieving: acceptance.
I can almost pinpoint the exact moment that I came to the stage of acceptance. It was in October 2011, six months after being diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I was lying in bed after a difficult chemo treatment, feeling overwhelmed with resentment, bitterness and self-pity. Suddenly a life-altering thought occurred to me. While I did not have a choice in getting cancer, I did have a choice in the attitude I would bring to it. I could choose to focus on the harsh ugly realities of cancer, or I could choose to face it with a positive attitude.
As a psychologist, I was acutely aware of the mind body connection and how my thoughts and feelings could impact on my physical health. I then set out to convince myself that cancer wasn't THAT bad. In fact, there were even some perks to having cancer. For example, since getting cancer, not once did I have to help wash the dishes at big family gatherings. That thought made me smile, and I decided that if finding one perk of having cancer could bring a smile to my face, then I would find 100 Perks of Having Cancer! And so my blog, later to become a book, was born.
Over the course of the next year, as I endured painful and uncomfortable procedures including chemotherapy, surgeries and radiation treatments, I found and blogged 100 good things that happened to me as a result of having cancer. Blogging not only provided a distraction from the disease, it also gave me a creative outlet to express my feelings; it connected me to a support network of fellow bloggers; and more importantly, it switched off the stress response in my body, thereby creating the ideal environment for healing.
While I believe that taking a positive approach to blogging had both emotional and physical healing benefits for me, research shows that blogging can be beneficial even when you use it as a forum to focus on your problems. In a recent study conducted in Israel, 160 teenagers who scored low on measures of social and emotional well-being, were asked to blog about their problems for ten weeks. By the end of the experiment, they showed significantly more improvement than both the control group and a group who had kept a diary. These gains remained at a two month follow up.
I believe that the therapeutic benefits of blogging are a direct result of the stress release it provides. Stress can wreak havoc on the body and has been proven to weaken the immune system. It has been shown to play a direct role in many illnesses, such as heart disease and high blood pressure. Stress has also been linked to the onset and progression of chronic illnesses such as cancer. Blogging, when used as a coping mechanism, turns off the stress response in the body and stimulates the relaxation response. In this state of rest, the body's natural self-repair mechanisms can get to work doing what they were meant to do: return the body to a state of optimal health.