By Marylin Smith Carsley

Journaling represents an opportunity for individuals to express themselves freely and without judgement. In our fast paced society, we are conditioned to motor through life without taking the time to reflect. Writing in a journal is a simple act that promises many benefits, including preserving special memories, recording thoughts and ideas, and most importantly, contributing to improved mental health.

Hope & Cope is known for its varied programs, particularly those that support the emotional component of the cancer journey, and journaling is no exception. A group of volunteers recently completed a seven-week journaling pilot program, led by oncology social worker and certified journal therapist Jean Rowe of North Carolina. The meetings were held on Zoom, and offered volunteers a guided method for private self-expression.

Throughout her career, Ms. Rowe has developed journal writing groups with a focus on cancer and self-care. Hope & Cope’s Wellness Centre Program Manager, Carly Berlin, became familiar with Ms. Rowe’s innovative approach to journaling while participating in an online course with a non-profit organization. Recognizing the benefits of journaling, Carly sought to make the program accessible to patients, caregivers and survivors through Hope & Cope.

Ms. Rowe began with an exercise which required volunteers to respond to a writing prompt in five minutes. She then asked the volunteers to review what they had written, and to give themselves personal feedback. Some volunteers shared their writing while others turned inward for personal reflection. Ms. Rowe emphasized the importance of opening oneself to one’s thoughts; in other words, she encouraged volunteers to connect with their feelings on paper, and, in turn, validate them. Journaling, Ms. Rowe explained, is an effective way for volunteers to engage in self-care.

Palliative Care volunteer and Team Leader Lucy Di Cesar has provided comfort to patients and families for eight years. She was excited to participate in the pilot project. “Journaling helped organize my thoughts and reading back what I wrote initiated all kinds of feelings,” Lucy explained. “In the group, we would share our journals and think about what we wrote.” Re-reading her journal entries was a helpful exercise, as it enabled her to reflect on her day. Now a strong proponent of journaling, Lucy expressed her hope that all patients may eventually write in their own journals.