If you have cancer, your life has been turned upside down. Not only do cancer and its treatments affect your body in serious physical ways, they also can challenge your self-image and self-esteem, your relationships and even your spiritual beliefs and values.How you cope from day to day is a personal decision. Only you know best what you need to find balance, comfort and strength. You might, for example, meditate, pray, exercise, do yoga, take nature walks, play or listen to music and spend quality time alone, with pets or with loved ones.To these wellness practices, consider adding another: journaling.MORE: A Journal and Planner for Cancer TreatmentThere are times when written words can heal. For example, you might find yourself unable to fully share your feelings with others out of a need to be strong for them. Or maybe you don’t think others would understand or sympathize with what you’re going through. Or you are continually haunted by such questions as “Why do I have cancer?” “How am I going to get through this?” and “Will I survive?”Even if you don’t think of yourself a writer, journaling can help you tap into feelings of guilt, anger, fear, doubt and sadness, and help you get some perspective on them. In turn, that understanding can reduce your stress, which is a vital part of getting well.“Writing is a way to make sense out of the chaos of emotions that accompanies a cancer diagnosis, “ says writer and educator Sharon Bray, Ed.D., who facilitates writing workshops for people with cancer. “When we begin to put our thoughts and feelings into words, on paper, they are less overwhelming…. In that way, it’s very similar to therapy, only we’re writing in the privacy of our journals.”Bray personally knows about journaling’s healing effects. A self-described “avid journaler” throughout her adult years, she found that writing greatly helped her deal with the sudden accidental death of her husband 30 years ago. She knew journaling would similarly aid her when she was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in 2000. “I was in shock and denial,” she says. “Writing opened the door for me to acknowledge, question and ultimately come to terms with what it meant for my life going forward.”MORE: Gratitude Is Good for Health How to BeginJournaling though the cancer experience shouldn’t be intimidating. After all, you’re in total control of what and how you write, as well as where and how often you do it. If it feels a little uncomfortable at first, write brief entries. Start with a couple of sentences, and see where they take you. Or you can be more daring. Bray suggests that you “…‘let ’er rip,’ meaning, just write. Even if you never go back and read it, that first explosion of words on paper will help relieve stress.”It can also be helpful to use a prompt that can trigger your thoughts and emotions. For example, you can ask yourself a question and try to answer it.Bray offers these writing prompts:● Tell the story of the moment you first heard the word cancer. Try to remember as much detail as you can—where you were, the quality of light in the room, how you felt, what you said or did.● Write about fear, and be honest. What do you fear? Make a list or turn that list into a “list poem.”● What about friends? Where have you found friendship in the experience of cancer? Where have you also lost it?● Faith or spirituality is another good topic to explore. How does your faith or belief help you weather the storm of cancer? Or not?● Write about how you feel about your body. Cancer feels like a betrayal by our bodies. What has changed?● Write about hair—having it; losing it.● Write about gratitude. Even in the experience of cancer, we discover we are grateful for more than we realized.QUIZ: Are You Stressed?Going FurtherJournaling promotes healing because it’s a process that can take you to higher levels of awareness.Sometimes, however, that awareness may not come easily. If, as you journal, you feel that you get stuck going over the same thoughts and feelings without making any progress, Bray suggests turning what you’ve written into a poem or a story. You might later want to share it with others. “We know implicitly how to tell stories to one another,” she says. “It turns out that narratives have more healing benefits than simply expressing our feelings over and over.”Whether you decide to share your words with others, or keep them private in the sanctuary of a notebook, you can make your written thoughts and feelings an important part of your recovery—and self-discovery—as you journal through cancer.MORE: Journaling Through a TraumaWant to Know More?Sharon Bray, Ed.D is the author of “A Healing Journey: Writing Together Through Breast Cancer” and “When Words Heal: Writing Through Cancer”. She offers a free weekly writing prompt for people with cancer on her website, WritingThroughCancer.com.Jeanette Leardi is an instructor of journaling, memoir-writing, personal mythmaking and storytelling. A longtime freelance writer and editor, her publishing experiences also include staff positions at Newsweek, Life, People and Condé Nast Traveler magazines, and The Charlotte Observer. Visit her at jeanetteleardi.com.