What to Know About Tracking Your Mood and Symptoms During Cancer Treatment
Living in a body is an incredibly subjective experience under the best of circumstances, and when conditions in your life and your body are challenging, that subjectivity only increases. People are prone to recency bias (“the way I feel right now is how I have always felt”), wild inaccuracy in estimation (“I think I threw up twice last week”—when in reality you threw up nine times), and simple inability to recall (“was I sick last week? Who even knows!”).
All of that can be fine if everything else in your life is in balance, but during cancer treatment? Not so much. Because your body is working so hard to keep you going through your treatments, because you have a whole team of medical professionals who need to interface, because your mind can be very understandably scattered, and because the stakes are high, it’s super important to be intentional about how you pay attention to yourself during treatment.
Enter tracking. Tracking is a simple and powerful tool that can slice right through the fog of “how am I really doing?” Research shows that tracking can improve outcomes across a range of patient populations and conditions. It works because it replaces the subjective (your perceived feeling state) with the objective (hard data that you record without judging). Tracking your mood, symptoms, and side effects can give you the neutral accuracy of a scientist’s way of seeing things. And because your team is literally made up of scientists, that info will be way more useful to them than trying to muddle through more subjective assessments of how you’re holding up.
How to track
You may have already used the tracking feature on our website (and if you’ve ever worn a FitBit or Apple Watch, kept track of miles you’ve walked, run, or biked, or kept a food journal, then you have experience). But if this will be your first foray into tracking, never fear, because simplicity is a key value of an effective tracking program, and we’re going to walk you through how to get started.
On your dashboard, you’ll find an orange section labeled “Daily Tracker” with a “+” sign to press. This is where you can record your daily moods and symptoms in just a few clicks. To track your mood, just click the picture of a face and select the menu option(s) that feel like the best description of your mood (or select the write-in option if nothing really fits). Next, click on the heartbeat symbol and do the same thing. This can take under 60 seconds if you want to finish fast—and if you want to record more detailed notes, there’s a third tab (“Notes”, denoted by a series of parallel horizontal lines) where you can write as much as you want.
How tracking works with your care team
Tracking is great as a tool for your own practices—it can help you gain a new level of insight into what habits might be influencing your symptoms and can sometimes offer a sense of predictability. For example, maybe you recently started doing restorative yoga in the evenings. It feels really nourishing to your body, and you’re stoked that you finally have the energy for this kind of practice. Tracking can clue you into what may be facilitating the energy boost that gets you to your yoga mat—maybe you started a new med, or shifted a dose, right around the time that you started downward dogging. Without tracking, it can be really easy for the concurrence of these separate events (the energy and the meds) to go unnoticed. Tracking can also reveal cause-and-effect relationships between simple lifestyle tweaks, like a newly-iffy stomach that started right around the same time you discovered some yummy new sugar-free cookies, or a connection between low moods and not getting much movement.
These sorts of finely tuned observations are great at any time, but they are particularly valuable at times of mental and physical strain—which is a fair description of treatment. The data you collect through your daily tracker is invaluable to your healthcare team. The ability to bring your oncologist a clear, concise report about how you’re feeling provides a greater level of insight into your experience and can allow for nuanced adjustments to your treatment plan.
A tool for observation
There is so much about cancer treatment, and cancer itself, that is impossible to control. You can do all the complementary therapies and follow your protocols to a T, and yet there will still be incredibly hard days. Within that reality, tracking your mood and symptoms can do a tiny bit to help take you out of the wilderness of illness by encouraging you to watch and notice your symptoms. In meditation, observing your thoughts without attachment or judgment is a key to mindful peace, and in treatment, this practice of observation can help support you while you walk through your days.
The content on this website is intended to provide the best possible information for you, but should not be considered—or used as a substitute for—medical advice. If you have questions about your diagnosis or treatment, please contact your health care provider(s). For questions or comments about this content, please email us at [email protected].