Cancer researchers have confirmed what many writers and diarists have long known: Keeping a personal journal of life experiences — good and bad — can help boost a person’s mood and contribute to a more positive outlook.
That's the key finding of a first-of-its-kind study that found breast cancer patients who create a personal Website to chronicle their experiences in fighting the disease — and communicate with their circle of family and friends — have fewer depressive symptoms, a positive outlook, and an enhanced appreciation for life.
The study, published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology
, was led by Annette Stanton, a member of the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California-Los Angeles and a professor of psychology, psychiatry, and biobehavioral sciences.
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"From our own and others' previous research, we know that expressing emotions surrounding the experience and gaining social support can be helpful for people diagnosed with cancer, and we know that interpersonal interventions can be useful," Stanton said.
"Our goal in this research was to provide a platform on which breast cancer patients could reflect on their experiences, as well as communicate with and leverage support from their existing social networks, especially friends and family. The idea for this trial really took off when I met two sisters who had created personal Websites for each other when each was diagnosed with cancer."
The study — dubbed Project Connect Online — involved 88 breast cancer patients between the ages of 28 and 76, who were assigned either to a three-hour workshop led by Stanton and her colleagues in which the women created personal websites or to a second group that did not create websites. All of the women completed a standard survey assessing their psychological status before being assigned to their group and again six months later.
At the end of the study, the researchers said the women assigned to the Website group reported their writings were particularly valuable for telling the stories of their cancer experiences, expressing emotions, and reducing how much information they had to repeat for family and friends. They also demonstrated statistically significant improvements in depressive symptoms, positive mood, and life appreciation, compared to the other group.
As a result of the findings, the women originally assigned to the second non-writing group were offered the workshop after the study was completed.
"We are encouraged by these positive findings," Stanton said, "especially for cancer survivors with the most need — those in active medical treatment or with more advanced disease. Our next step is to gain support for a larger test of Project Connect Online."
This research was funded by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.
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