When Cancer Dominates Your Life

For the second time over the last 16 years, I recently had the sensation as I was going about my daily life: “I feel like I have my life back.”

The first time was a few years after finishing active treatment for stage 3 breast cancer.  It had taken me several years to feel that I could return to what felt like normalcy, where I had choices on how to focus my attention and could trust in the future.

Again, things have shifted a lot for me personally and it feels like all of a sudden!

Many of you know that my husband of almost 30 years was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer 5 years ago.  After grueling treatments which included months in the hospital during the pandemic (for cancer reasons, not covid), he has reached a place of relative stability.

By stability, I mean we are still living between 3 month scans but he’s on a break from treatment for 9 months now. Gotta love these breaks from treatment where you start to feel your energy come back! And then he surprised me by going back to work after being retired for almost 2 years.

It happened after I had spent a month away over the summer.

My daughter Alima, who is 16 now, and I spent a month in Spain this summer visiting relatives. She attended a 10 day camp and I spent 7 blissful days by myself on the island off Menorca.  Read about how free I felt in Menorca: http://www.kellyinselmann.com/blog/what-makes-you-feel-free/

This fall, my daughter is in 10th grade at Westlake High School and works part time, while my husband was recruited back to his field and is enjoying himself.

And here I am asking myself a question I have asked before: “How do you connect with your identity after cancer has dominated your life for years?”

I feel a bit distracted as I turn back towards the work I love, with people who seek to make meaning of their lives, increase their vitality, and heal emotional wounds.

I’m grateful to the JoyBoots Inner Circle Group for keeping me devoted to our work together. They have continued meeting for 4 years through hell and high water, since initially meeting in yoga classes and my online course, Healing Well: Reconnect with Your Life after Cancer.

Together we have celebrated the life milestone of one member selling her house and building her dream cottage out in the country with her best friends. We have celebrated times of stability in treatment and good family news.

We have supported each other through recurrences and even through the heartbreaking passing of a beloved member, Jane.  In group, we ask each other: “What do you think Jane would say to that?” And the answer is always something irreverent, brutally honest, and empowering. Her spirit and wisdom live on in us.

In the past few months, I have grieved the losses of a dear friend and a of a dear client, both age 41, both irreplaceable and  leaving behind 2 children and heartbroken families.

I continue to grieve the losses of all these friends.

Sometimes people wonder how I work with people who are facing cancer. I admit, I have to pay attention to my own self care and make sure I’m exercising, and socializing and now…traveling!

But for me, it’s not a burden to meet with JoyBooters, it’s an honor and it’s often super fun.  Being with people who recognize the fragility of life, who love deeply and care so much for their loved ones, makes my life more vivid. I am reminded that time is shorter than we think, and each moment more beautiful.  For me, it’s an honor to have this deep level of connection.  It helps me make meaning of my own life.

Quite frankly, JoyBooters always end up inspiring me.

So, this fall, I have turned much more determinedly towards revamping my signature program which shares my 6 Steps for Emotional Recovery from the Trauma of Cancer. You can listen to this podcast interview I gave about my ideas. https://therapistuncensored.com/episodes/tu63-living-with-cancer-the-six-principles-of-emotional-healing-with-guest-kelly-inselmann/

In early 2024, the course will open for people who are newly diagnosed and for cancer survivors who have finished active treatment.  A version for people living with metastatic cancer and a caregiver version will come soon after.

As I work on the course, this question continues to guide me: “How do I connect to my identity after cancer has dominated my life?”  Does this resonate for you?



Shift of Temperature

The heat has been oppressive and sometimes it feels like it’s all you can do just to make it through the day. And if you or your loved one is in treatment for cancer, the stress and fatigue can magnify.

Recently, I listened to a podcast about the comparison trap and how we often measure our success, happiness, or status by seeing how we compare to others. 

Is she still working through treatment and I’m not? Should I be on a vegan diet like certain influencers? Am I living my best life and enjoying every moment like the people I follow on social media who also have cancer?

Comparison isn’t always bad. It can be a tool for growth where you get new ideas, learn new skills, or access resources.


But  it can also create misery, depending on whether you can hold onto your own worthiness no matter what it looks like others are doing and enjoying.

One takeaway for me was how as humans we have always needed one another to survive, but also how painful it can be when you don’t feel like you belong somewhere.  

The amygdala, the primitive brain of fight/flight/freeze in response to perceived threat, gets so activated that you can end up in a state of constant anxiety and stress, even during the phases or moments in life where there is a break from difficulty.

A cancer diagnosis creates a fight/flight/freeze response in everyone it affects, from the patient to loved ones, doctors, or acquaintances.

The fight/flight/freeze response is automatic but you don’t want to get stuck there.

Last weekend, my JoyBoots Inner Circle Group, that has been meeting for years, got together for our first in person retreat.  Talk about having so many activities that helped us relax out of fight/flight, stress, and anxiety!

We enjoyed the first bit of beautiful weather for practicing yoga and meditation outside, swimming, and looking at the stars.  Our view was bucolic country farms and we breathed in the peaceful natural beauty and sounds. Our delicious, healthy meals were beautifully prepared and served.

We shared our feelings and goals, tears and memories. We acknowledged our weariness. We left with greater tenderness for one another and for ourselves.

We felt safe and nurtured and, I believe, a sense of belonging and understanding.

These are the rare antidotes to chronic stress, especially among cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers.

What are the ways you are showing tenderness this week, especially towards yourself? Can you reach out for more support if needed?

How DO You Heal Emotionally after the Trauma of Cancer? The 6 Principles

Over the years, I’ve received many messages from people who heard an interview I did with Dr. Ann Kelly (shared below) at Therapist Uncensored about how hard it is to heal after the trauma of having cancer.  And I explain the six keys to unlocking the healing process.

In September, 2023, new classes, therapy groups, and an online course will begin to help you learn and practice skills based on these principles.

Be sure you are on the JoyBoots community mailing list so you know when they open up!



Cancer sucks, no way around it. If you have it, had it or are supporting someone who does, this episode will be nourishment for you by bringing your mind and body into the healing and recovery process for cancer and trauma is so important.

Fighting cancer is often traumatic physically, emotionally and relationally. Podcast host Dr. Ann Kelley joins therapist and Yoga Instructor Kelly Inselmann (LCSW, C-IAYT,CGP) as she shares her personal journey through cancer recovery and describes her passion and process in supporting others to find hope and healing while in this compromised state.

They discuss how modifying the six principles of emotional recovery into the basic principles of yoga can have an immense impact on well-being and recovery.

JOY BOOTS Yoga is BACK for 4 weeks starting May 31, 2023!

It’s been a minute, hasn’t it?  We were still deep in the pandemic doing online classes when I had to take a hiatus to rest and care for my middle school daughter and my husband following his devastating surgery.

Thankfully, my family has reached a moment of stability.  My daughter finished her freshman year in high school and my husband is doing well and on a break from further treatments for the time being.

I’ve been getting lots of inquiries about our JoyBoots Yoga class, groups, and community and I have missed you! What’s happening in your life?

As mine has stabilized, I’ve turned to the question of What Now? How do I want to spend my professional time?

My mind always returns to the JoyBoots Community and the pleasure I get in our connections and in offering groups, classes, and individual sessions.

I started thinking of the ways yoga, meditation, and therapy all help us move from anxious to grounded, calm, and hopeful.  Check out this previous post on 3 Key ELEMENTS everyone should know: http://www.kellyinselmann.com/meditations/covid-anxious-grounded/

Join me in practicing easily accessible movement, breath work, and meditation to shift your experience of the present moment, stabilize your mind, and open your heart.


With the present moment being all we have,

I felt inspired to offer my JoyBoots Yoga Classes for

4 weeks beginning Wednesday May 31, 2023 – Wednesday June 21.


I hope to be back in person this Fall, but these classes will be ONLINE and DONATION based, pay what you can.

Suggested Donation is $20 per class (Venmo or CashApp). 

To sign up for notices of the class, please email me at kellyinselmanntherapy@gmail.com with YOGA in the subject line.  I will add you to my weekly list of people to receive the ZOOM LINK. Then you can drop in as you wish (no obligation) and donate only if you attend.

More info about the class here: http://www.kellyinselmann.com/weekly-yoga/

An Invitation to Seek a Place of Rest

In The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, Frank Ostaseski, the co-founder of the Zen Hospice Center, shares what he has learned through his work with people facing grief and loss, s well as his own life experience and spiritual practice.

He distills a lot of wisdom into the Five Invitations. They are principles that show us how to wake up more fully to our lives and appreciate life’s preciousness.

I suspect many JoyBooters will relate and enjoy delving into his ideas and stories. In these days of societal stress and polarization, and for people facing the challenges of illness, recovery, or loss, one invitation stands out to me this week:

The invitation is to find a place of rest in the middle of things.

The place to rest might be physical or how you feel in the company of a love one. It may even be available to you in your own breath in which you let go with each exhale. If you don’t let go, you can’t fully take in your next breath or be fully present to the next moment.

Here are a few nuggets he teaches about the breath:

  • Breathing is a living process, constantly changing and moving in cycles- inhale, pause, exhale, pause. Each breath has a beginning, middle, and end. Every breath goes through a process of birth, growth, and death. Breathing is a microcosm of life itself.
  • While we might believe otherwise, there is nothing boring about being with the breath. When we open to the miracle of breath and sense directly the process of oxygenation, we appreciate how, through a creative collaboration with our blood, air reaches every cell of our bodies. 
  • The breath invites us to rest, restore, and be revitalized.

I invite you to practice letting your breath to breathe you. Click here to practice with me. Notice how the breath moves your body and the path it follows as it enters, nourishes, and leaves you. Each moment is totally new. Each breath is unique, purposeful, and essential to life….

From Anxious to Grounded

We’re living from one day to the next with additional layers of stress, worry and anxiety. Things may feel overwhelming, out of control and uncertain. Learning to be okay in the present moment, a witness to your life experience, is one of the benefits of practicing yoga and meditation.

When you bring your awareness to the present moment, you activate the part of your brain (the frontal lobe) that regulates and soothes emotions. You also increase the possibility of feeling compassion for yourself and others.

Cutting edge psychotherapy recognizes these 3 elements from yoga and meditation that help you come into the present moment, lower anxiety, and tolerate acute stress and post traumatic stress:

Feeling grounded
Feel connected to your body, your breath, and to the physical space around you including the floor and the earth.

Being the Observer
Be the witness to what you are thinking and feeling, instead of being captured by every thought or feeling, pulled into reliving the past, or worrying about the future.

Allowing Everything
Once you notice the thought, feeling or sensation, give it permission to be present.  Imagine it has the right be here. Don’t try to push it away. Allow everything to simply BE, just as it is, in this moment.

Healing occurs more readily when you are able to feel grounded, recognize the relative safety of the present moment, feel your feelings, and speak your truth. We can all benefit from taking time to be present and from giving ourselves the gift of time and space— to breathe, to feel, to be.

Join me in this yoga video to practice together: http://www.kellyinselmann.com/videos/move-the-body-balance-the-mind-warm-ups/


Exploring the Effectiveness of Meditation on Post-Treatment Chemobrain

Last year, I collaborated with Ashley Henneghan, NP, PhD, to test the impact of Kirtan Kriya )mantra meditation) on chemobrain and I shared this article detailing the research with you last week.

Daily meditation is a challenge for almost everyone! As soon as you sit quietly, your mind is flooded with unresolved issues and unprocessed feelings.  Sometimes it can even be overwhelming to contend with them.  Meditation is not always a peaceful experience, especially as you are still coming to terms with a traumatic experience.

There’s a recently published study that highlights how women’s brains “age” as they go through chemotherapy – which is just about the best description that I can relate to.  I felt like my body and brain were aged 20-25 years post treatment.

I remember searching the library at MD Anderson in 2008 for studies or data on ”chemobrain” so I could understand what I was facing.  My doctors didn’t seem to understand that my cognitive impairment was real and couldn’t solely be attributed to depression or anxiety.

At that time, they were just beginning to discover that chemotherapy does indeed cross the “blood/brain” barrier.  Intuitively, I knew that my brain was part of my body so why wouldn’t it be impacted?

“…A handful of animal studies in the mid-2000s showed that chemotherapy drugs could get through the blood-brain barrier. Shortly after, a surge of neuroimaging studies provided biological evidence: Brains of chemotherapy patients had to work harder during memory recall than those of cancer patients who did not receive the drugs (Clinical Cancer Research, Vol. 15, No. 21, 2009). ‘The interpretation was that their neural networks had been altered, making the brain work much harder to do the same tasks, Kesler says.” (Cognition and Cancer Treatment)

To learn more, check out this great article written by Ashley Henneghan, RN, MPH, Associate Professor at the University of Texas School of Nursing.

If you’re affected by chemobrain and want to experience the benefits of Kirtan Kriya meditation, you can read more about how to do it here. I’m also happy to share a video meditation with you here.

Limitless Possibility

As humans, we all face physical limitations related to being mortal and facing our own mortality is a realization that brings all kinds of feelings – fear, grief, anger, denial, acceptance. But just as we must face certain limitations related to our human existence, there is also the potential for limitless possibility.

Dr. Atul Gawande, physician and author of Being Mortal, addresses the question:

How do we move through the world and keep taking action once we are so aware of our limitations, vulnerabilities and imperfections?

We’re all so incredibly limited and yet there are ways that we string together and are almost unlimited as groups of people. It’s magic when that happens- when you all start pulling together and then you eradicate polio from the world, which we’re almost on the verge of doing.

I love this wisdom from Dr. Atul Gawande where he describes how connection and community create a synergistic effect that gives us the feeling of growth and possibility, where creativity and new ideas emerge, and where we keep each other motivated and accountable to our missions in life. This is when the seemingly impossible can happen. As humans, we are all indeed imperfect, limited and uncertain of the future. When we lack connection we feel alone and more limited, but among a healthy community, we can help each other grow, expand, and heal.

If you’re not already a member of the Joy Boots for Cancer Survivors Facebook group, I hope you’ll join us right now. And if you know someone who could benefit from the healing powers of community, I hope you’ll share this post and ask them to subscribe.

Fragmentation to Integration

“Everyone experiences fragmentation.  But not everyone knows how to re-integrate and heal.”

Dr. Gurucharan Singh Khalsa


In the midst of treatment for cancer, I looked in the mirror and felt shocked at how changed I was on the outside. “This is me?” I had no hair, no eyebrows, pain and fatigue. Deep lines had appeared out of nowhere and there were dark circles under my eyes. I hadn’t spent much time in front of the mirror before, barely wearing makeup and not interested in the latest fashions. But now I did and I could see my soul. 

When trauma occurs, you feel fragmented. Feelings get pushed aside in favor of survival. Parts of your experience are forgotten, the changes in your body create unfamiliar and unwelcome sensations. Your identity shifts as well as your sense of who you are.

As uncomfortable as it is, this fragmentation is a normal response to a traumatic, life threatening experience. The problem is that you don’t always get to re-integrate and integration is vital to healing. 

In order to integrate, you have to acknowledge all aspects of your experience – changes in your body, relationships, undesirable memories, big feelings, and find ways to integrate them. When you’re integrated, you no longer feel numb, and have access to your emotions. You are more in charge of how you act and react and you can talk about your experience in a coherent way.
What creates a feeling of integration when you’re fragmented?

  • Feeling truly seen, heard and witnessed by another person is one way.  And personal reflection through meditation invites your inner witness. When you include others, they are your witness. When you are meditating and/or being the observer of your own experience, you are your own witness.
  • Movement that gets your circulation moving, balances your energy and the hemispheres of the brain is another way. Yoga practice can also balance and integrate the functions of the brain stem (which controls survival) and the frontal lobe (which manages emotions and executive functioning).

Here’s a simple practice to acknowledge the many parts of your body and your Self:

In my upcoming workshop, we’ll explore the concept of fragmentation vs. integration and how integration helps you center and heal.

Registration  now open for the workshop on February 27 and I hope you’ll join me.

Open to all! Cancer survivors, oncology professionals, mental health professionals, yoga teachers-anyone who is interested in experiencing the Kundalini Yoga approach to integration and healing.

Register Here:



Ocean or Mountains?

The Yoga & Talk series features Joybooter stories and words of encouragement to nurture, heal and inspire— and in doing so, helps us to get to know one another, stay connected and to remind us that we are never alone in our healing journeys.

Rakefet Laviolette brings a zest for living, open curiosity and deep empathy into our community.  Her willingness to take risks and embrace new adventures inspires others, as does her honesty and generosity.

Share a little bit about yourself.

I am a 42 year old woman, yogini, breast cancer thriver, meditator, mother of two amazing bonus daughters, mamma to two sweet chihuahua-mix rescue puppies and a grey tabby kitty, wife, world traveler, mental health therapist in training, vegetarian home chef, and lover of deep connection. I've lived many different lives. 

I was born in Israel hence the name Rakefet which means cyclamen (a three petaled flower that looks like it is falling up that grows on the mountainsides in Jerusalem). 

I grew up in rural Pennsylvania next to a cow pasture. 

We were the only Jewish family in the school district. I am the eldest of three daughters + many foster teens my family took in when I was 11-18 years old. 

I served 8 years in the US Army Reserves as a forklift operator and truck driver. I was deployed to Hungary and Bosnia during my first year of college. I am now a disabled veteran due to hearing loss and tinnitus. 

I spent 20 years working in non-profits who worked with issues ranging from domestic violence to child care advocacy and Judaism. I've lived as an adult in NYC, San Francisco and now Austin for the last 10 years. 

In 2007 I walked for 30 days from the base of the Pyrenees in Spain to Santiago de Compostela on El Camino de Santiago. I went on to travel for 6 more months over land and sea through western and eastern Europe, the Balkans, Greece, Turkey and Israel. 

For the last 6 years my husband and I ran the Rattletree School of Marimba, a community music school teaching Zimbabwean marimba and mbira music.

Share a little bit about your cancer experience.

I have been getting mammograms since I was 35 since my mother had breast cancer when she was in her early 40's and my maternal grandmother had it in her later years. I do not have the BRCA gene. In May 2018, they found a lump in my left breast which turned out to be invasive ductal carcinoma, ER/PR positive. My health care is through the VA system and the part-time male breast surgeon in Temple told me that I was too skinny for DIEP and that the most important thing was to get the cancer out quickly. I chose a bilateral mastectomy. He said that he would leave me with flaps of skin that could later be filled. My husband and I were both in shock and didn't know any better. 

I process things through sharing with community and fortunately, I shared a FB live video talking about the surgeon's recommendation a week or so before the scheduled surgery.

A fan of our marimba band reached out privately and he said that he and his wife, who happened to be one of Austin's best breast reconstruction plastic surgeons, would like to invite us over for dinner to share information about other options for care. 

It turned out to be Dr. Christine Fisher. She and her husband graciously spent 2-3 hours with us in their home over dinner talking in clear accessible language with us as human beings about the possibilities. She truly saw me as a human being and helped to pair me with the right breast surgeon and guided my care once I asked her to be my plastic surgeon. Her staff worked tirelessly with me to climb the chain of command at the VA to approve outside treatment in Austin. 

I am blessed beyond measure. I had a bilateral mastectomy with delayed DIEP flap reconstruction, 3 revisions including the addition of small gummy bear implants to fill in the hollows that fat grafting couldn't without several more surgeries. All together I had 5 surgeries, one infection, and lots of humbling poking and prodding. I'm now on tamoxifen for 5 - 10 years. 
The brain fog, night sweats and fear of cardio toxicity from tamoxifen are what I work with every day.

How has it benefitted you to be part of the Joyboots community?

The Joyboots community has been there for me throughout my cancer journey. I love coming into the yoga space and being able to be 100% myself. I don't have to explain anything. I feel held and seen. The movements and breath work feel nourishing to my body and soul. 

Kelly is an inspiration to me personally and is one of the reasons I am pursuing a career in mental health counseling. I love the way she weaves together movement, breath, chanting, and community into promoting wellbeing for the Joyboots community.

What is your meditation practice like?

I have an on again, off again meditation practice. My life was changed dramatically when I attended my first 10 day silent Vipassana retreat in Kaufman. I meditated for 10+ hours a day and for the first time in my life I was able to truly drop in. 

Being in silence and not having any responsibilities or roles to fill was transformational. It was the first time I remember being truly alone with myself. I have since attended one more 10 day Vipassana retreat which brought up a lot of fear. I haven't been back to Kaufman since the cancer diagnosis, but I plan to go when my schedule allows. 

For now, I am taking part in a 50 day introduction to meditation course through the Waking Up app by Sam Harris. He approaches it through his background as a neuroscientist and avid meditator. I find the 10 minute meditations simple to stick to and profoundly interesting in exploring the landscape of my inner world. Here is a link to a free month of the app for anyone who is interested in trying it:
Waking Up

How has yoga and meditation benefitted you?

Yoga has brought me community first and foremost. Yoga and meditation have allowed me to get to know myself more and more each day. My practices change as I grow. They give me space to pause and drop into my body, soul and mind spaces. I feel more now and have more tools to be in the world in an authentic way. I have more opportunities to consciously act instead of react to stimuli.

What practices have benefited you the most?

Yoga, breath-work, and meditation.
What are you still struggling to cope with?

The fear of recurrence. How to tell my story of who I am becoming each day and who I was. The night sweats and brain fog from tamoxifen. Figuring out how to take care of myself while being there in a healthy way for friends who are with me on the cancer journey. I am particularly having trouble with fear and deep empathy when I connect with friends who have metastatic cancer.

What brings you moments of joy?

Being greeted by my Penny (6 month old chihuahua mix rescue). Time with my bonus daughter Siena. Cooking in my instant pot. 
Sunshine! A good yoga twist. A workout that takes everything I have and leaves me spent in a great way at the East Austin Athletic Club through Team Survivor.

What is something you'd like to share with the community to help them along their healing journey?

I'm really enjoying this book Walking Wonder by John O'Donohue, Walking in Wonder. It is available as an audio book for free from the ATX public library through their Hoopla app.

WILD CARD: Ocean or Mountains?

I grew up on the east coast and had the narrative in my head that cold and winter are the devil. They meant cold, damp, hard, icy, and grey. I had such negativity around even the mention of cold. 

Last weekend I was gifted the opportunity through B4BC Boarding for Breast Cancer to go to a retreat in the mountains of Wyoming near the Grand Tetons. The weather was in the negatives and teens the whole time. I wasn't sure about going but something told me to try it. The tamoxifen hot flashes were a blessing :-) Also, the dry cold with the powdery snow that felt like clouds hugging me was transformational. 

I learned to ski and had no fear of falling on icy patches of snow. Instead, falling was a delight into the powder. I was surrounded by women on their own cancer journeys. I was gifted the right warm clothing and was nourished with home cooked healthy food. We did yoga every day, received acupuncture treatments and were supported as we explored something new. 

So as much as I love the ocean, I'm choosing mountains for now.

If you wish to connect with Rakefet, you may connect with her through email at rakefet@rattletree.com.