How Sticky Notes Saved My Sanity During Cancer Treatments

Cancer is a long and difficult journey for most patients.  Treatments are daunting and wrought with side effects, such as impaired memory, depression, loneliness, anxiety, and neuropathy.  But something as simple as a tiny square of colored paper with low-residue glue can be a bright light in the dark days of cancer.  How is that possible, you ask? Well, let me tell you how sticky notes saved my sanity during my cancer treatments and beyond.

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Disclaimer: Pink Ribbon Runner is not affiliated with Post-It brand or the 3M company in any way.  The information below was found from independent sources. This article was not sponsored by 3M and they were not consulted before publication.  The ideas and opinions in this article are my own.

I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2013.  Treatment was a year long ordeal, consisting of two mastectomy surgeries, two full rounds of chemotherapy, daily radiation for months and now hormonal therapy.  My journey was filled with rough and tumble days, but also days of celebration and sunshine too.  It was a true rollercoaster ride.  I developed several strategies to get me through the tough times.  A few of those strategies included Post-it Notes.  Let me explain.

Post-It Notes are a 3M Company Invention

The invention of the sticky note is attributed to Arthur Fry and Spencer Silver, two chemical engineers working for 3M. 

Frustrated that his bookmarks were falling out, Art Fry was looking for a way to securely bookmark his church hymnal without damaging it.  He tried some low-residue glue developed by a fellow 3M researcher, Dr. Silver. He discovered that a small strip applied to the edge of a small piece of paper was a perfect way to save his place in the book.  And, thus, the 3M Post-It Note was born. 




The original canary yellow product was officially launched in 1980. Since then, sticky notes have become an essential staple for home and business. And, as most people know, they come in a rainbow of colors, which makes them so much more useful and fun.

How I Started Using Sticky Notes in My Cancer Journey

I first started using sticky notes to organize my chemotherapy appointments.  Knowing that visualization techniques were a good way to reduce stress, I wanted a way to count down to the end of treatments.  Essentially, I wanted a way to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

To remind myself that treatments were all just temporary, I wanted something visual right in front of me.  Knowing that there would be very rough times and a long road to recovery, staying firmly focused on the end was my way to cope. 

So, I put all the dates of my chemotherapy on Post-It notes.  If I remember right, I think I used green for the actual appointments.  Then I made a sticky note calendar on the wall beside my bed.  The location was something I would see every morning and every evening, as well as anytime in between when I wasn’t feeling well and needed a nap. 

The sticky notes were perfect, as they could easily be moved around if my appointment times were changed. And, of course, changes in appointment times happens often on the long road of cancer therapies. And, as Art Fry and Spencer Silver discovered, they didn’t leave marks on my walls. 

Tearing Up the Sticky Notes was Therapeutic

Each day, I would take down a sticky note and tear it into little tiny bits before tossing it.  This was very therapeutic.  I felt calmer as each day passed and as I made my way to the end of treatments. 

The Hope for Healing Foundation lists this technique as one of 17 ways to relieve worry, stress and anxiety. They call it, “Taking out the Trash”


Taking out the trash:  If you’re struggling with negative or overwhelming thoughts, one technique to help relieve the tension and stress is to write all the negative thoughts down on paper.  Keep writing until you can’t think of anything else to write.  Then tear up the paper and throw it away or burn it.  This symbolically helps your mind understand that these thoughts are garbage.  Then write new positive thoughts to replace the negative ones.  Keep and re-read those positive thoughts often. ” – Linda Bjork at Hope for Healing Foundation


I wasn’t comfortable with burning the paper pieces.  With my chemo brain and lack of dexterity during my treatments, this may have been a disaster, possibly involving the fire department.  I also thought about flushing the pieces down the toilet, for more of a symbolic representation of what I thought about cancer.  But, again, with my luck I would end up clogging the toilet.  I don’t think Post-It notes are meant to be burned or flushed. 

So, I would tear up the notes into tiny pieces and toss them in my recycling bin.  This was more environmentally responsible anyways.

I repeated the same process for my radiation treatments.  And it was indeed therapeutic. 

My homecare nurse was impressed and started recommending this to her other patients. 

How Sticky Notes Saved My Sanity During Cancer Treatments

Other Ways I used Post-It Notes on my Cancer Journey

After my mastectomy surgeries, I had limited mobility in my arms.  I couldn’t reach very high over my head, making getting things out of the cupboard difficult.  My surgeon gave me an exercise to do to help me regain some mobility and reach. 

The exercise was to walk my hands up a wall.  I started by standing about 1 foot from the wall facing towards it.  I placed my hands on the wall at about chest level, where it felt comfortable.  Using my fingers to walk up the wall, I could feel a stretch in my arms and chest area.  I would stop the climb before I felt any pain. 



I repeated this day after day, going a little further up the wall as I regained my flexibility.

Marking my place on the wall with a sticky note, I would place the little piece of paper at the highest point I could reach each day.  Slowly, I could see that Post-It moving up the wall.  It was another visualization technique that made me proud of my progress.  And, again, this was on the wall beside my bed to remind me to do my exercises every day. 

A Third Way I used Post-It Notes to Journal my Cancer Journey

I also used sticky notes to record my thoughts and the events along the way.  Keeping these in a binder notebook, I had a separate section for each of my journey transitions:

  • episodes of my life just before diagnosis
  • that day in my doctor’s office when I found out I had cancer
  • all my treatments; surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation
  • post-cancer recovery and my struggles with hormonal therapy
  • and my training to run a marathon

It is all there, in Post-It Note form, waiting for me to finish writing my memoires so that others can see what is possible.  I went from a chemotherapy chair, weak and feeble, to running a full marathon of 26.2 miles five years after treatments were done.  Recovery is possible. 

My dream is to finish writing this book one day.

Post-It Notes and Healthy Living After Cancer

Today, I still use sticky notes to help me organize and keep track of a healthy lifestyle.  From developing workout plans to meal planning, Post-It notes are now an essential part of my healthy living journey. 

And I am not alone in using sticky notes to organize my life.  More than 50 billion Post-It Notes are produced by 3M every year. It is estimated that the 3M company receives about $1 billion  in sales of their brand of sticky notes annually. There are over 1000 Post-It Note products currently on the market. 



So, how can you use Post-It notes in your cancer journey?  Let’s look at what others have done.

10 Ways to Use Post-It Notes to Help Cancer Patients and Cancer Survivors

1. Post-It Notes Keep You Organized

We all know that sticky notes are a great way to keep us organized.  From calendars to reminders, these little pieces of paper are an amazing tool at helping us get things done, including chemo and radiation treatments.   

2. Sticky Notes Help You Remember Dates and Appointments

I like to put my medical appointments on sticky notes.  There are so many kinds of cancer appointments to keep track of, including blood work, radiology, surgical appointments, oncology dates, treatments, massage, acupuncture and more. 

Organize the different appointments on color coded sticky notes.  They are easy to move around on a wall calendar if dates and times change. 

DIY Calendar Kit
by Post-It & Scotch Brand on Amazon

3. A Visual Aid to Count Down to Cancer Treatment Completion

This was the technique I used, as mentioned above, with dates of my chemotherapy and radiation appointments.  You could also use numbers for a count down, such as 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, END DAY! Then plan a celebration for the last day. 

4. Art Therapy – Window and Wall Murals from Post-Its

 During the pandemic, when visitors were not allowed in the treatment centers and hospitals, some people found inspiration in creating window murals to interact with others.  Social isolation can stall a cancer patient’s emotional healing. 

A 5 year old boy, Meyer, afflicted with brain cancer, found a way to spread cheer with window murals created from Post-It Notes. He and his mother posted a big smiley face on Meyer’s hospital window.  Nurses in a neighbouring hospital adjacent to his room posted a reply-mural.  This became a daily ritual to spread a little happiness in the cancer wards.

5. Art Therapy – Origami with Sticky Notes

Art therapy is one way to heal emotionally and mentally from the trauma that is cancer.  Post-It notes are the perfect size for making some origami.  This art form also helps with maintaining finger dexterity and can be therapeutic for those suffering from neuropathy in their hands.

How Sticky Notes Saved My Sanity During Cancer Treatments

6. Post-It Reminders For Those with Chemo Brain

For those who suffer with “chemo brain”, remembering things is very difficult.  Using sticky notes is a way to remember things.  I would use a Post-It reminder on my front door to remind me to take my wallet, keys and cell phone.  I would also post reminders around the house, especially on my bathroom mirror and fridge door, with various things I didn’t want to forget. 

7. Building Friendships with Sticky Notes

From love notes, quotes, or words of encouragement, sticky notes can be a great way to build friendships.  A random kind note can also be a bright light in the dark days of a cancer patient’s life. 

How Sticky Notes Saved My Sanity During Cancer Treatments

8. A Form of Mental and Physical Therapy

As I wrote earlier, writing down troubling thoughts, then tearing them into little bits can be very therapeutic for emotional and mental health.  But this act of tearing up tiny pieces of paper can help improve motor skills, grip strength, and neuropathy of the hand and arm.

9. Meal Planning with Post-It Notes

Post-It Notes are the perfect way to plan out meals.  Writing out breakfast, lunch and dinner menus can help you eat healthier meals, reduced food costs, and allow someone to help you prepare your meals when you are not able.  Post your menus on the fridge for easy viewing.

10. Planning Your Workouts with Sticky Notes

I also use Post-It notes to design and schedule my training plans.  My long easy runs, walks, and strength training plans are all put on my wall calendar in sticky note form.  This way I can adjust the week based on how I am feeling, moving things around as needed.  I can still get all my workouts done for the week and make it all fit into my life.

Noted by Post-It
Gift Set on Amazon

How Do You Use Sticky Notes On Your Cancer Journey?

I hope you enjoyed this article on how I used Post-It Notes to save my sanity during my cancer journey and beyond.  If you have any different ways to use sticky notes, please share your ideas in the comments below.  I would absolutely love to hear about how these handy little pieces of paper help you. 

How Sticky Notes Saved My Sanity During Cancer Treatments

photo credits: depositphotos.com

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8 Comments

  1. Wow! This is a very great post! I loved how you explained how post it notes became apart of your cancer journey and how it has helped you along the way. These are great pointers and ideas for sticky notes! Stay strong!

  2. Great post. Sticky notes are important to me. Many are used in my daily job and helps keep me stay on track.

  3. My goodness, you are a True surviver. Even though you documented all you went through with treatments, which must have been so hard for you, this post is optimistic and beautifully written. I actually have 1 massive wall hanging post it note, detailing my weekly routine.. Love it!

  4. I use sticky notes for my job to remember items that come up throughout the day! Glad that you have made through the tough times of cancer and into the healthy living! Thank you for sharing your experience!!

  5. Wicked cool. I use post it notes to remind me of things. I have one on my fridge to remind me to take my pills. Doesn’t always work but sometimes it does. Cancer sucks

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