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Fighting Cancer With a Pen
Date:3/14/2008

Research finds that 'expressive writing' helps to ease patients' burden

FRIDAY, March 14 (HealthDay News) -- When 69-year-old Carl Irwin arrived at Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center for treatment of lymphoma, he was handed a blank notebook and asked to write about how his cancer had changed him and how he felt about those changes.

Propped on a recliner chair, an IV in his left arm and a pen in his right hand, Irwin wrote about how he had confronted his cancer head on from the first diagnosis, how he had assembled what he called an "advisory" team, and how he felt he had made the right choice by entering a clinical trial to try to treat his disease.

"It [writing] helped my confidence immensely," said Irwin, whose journaling was part of another trial being conducted at Lombardi, in Washington, D.C. "Sometimes my brain doesn't kick in till I write."

Plenty of previous research has uncovered physical and psychological benefits to so-called expressive writing among diverse groups of patients, including people with chronic illnesses such as arthritis and asthma. Most of those studies were done in a controlled, laboratory setting.

The Georgetown study involved patients in an actual hospital setting.

"We were looking for feasibility," said Nancy Morgan, lead author of the study chronicling the Lombardi writing experiment that was published in the February issue of The Oncologist. "Our goal was to try it in the real world."

For the study, 63 patients with leukemia or lymphoma were asked when they arrived at the hospital to complete a 20-minute writing exercise as well as pre- and post-writing surveys and a telephone follow-up three weeks later.

Almost half of the participants said writing had changed how they thought about their illness and led to improvement in their quality of life, while 35 percent said writing changed how they felt about the can
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