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?

Survey on Emotional Impact of Cancer


As I shared last week, I learn so much from you and your experiences.  Whether you are also a cancer survivor, a loved one, or an oncology professional, could you do me a quick favor?

I’m about to offer my Healing Well: Reconnect with Your Life After Cancer course again and could use some feedback before I finish it up.

Would you be able to help me by answering a few quick questions based on your own hard earned experience? It should take 1-2 minutes):


On Falling Apart

“How can we pull ourselves together when we haven’t allowed ourselves to fall part?”

Elizabeth Goble

My husband’s cancer experience is giving me the chance to revisit how my 6 Principles for Emotional Recovery and Resilience (6 Principles) work. To be honest, things have been hard. We are getting ready to go to Houston for a series of surgeries while my daughter starts middle school in a new environment where she doesn’t have friends yet and we don’t have any systems in place.

The disruptions and surprises keep coming and the underlying uncertainty is a challenge. In this moment, I’m reminded that I don’t have to fight against allowing the experience to affect me, my schedule, my goals, our relationships and my life. I’m aware of surrendering my tight grip on trying to be in control and I’m back to basics with Principle #1: Getting Honest about how the cancer experience is/has impacted you. If you don’t let yourself fall apart physically and emotionally, you simply remain frozen, incapable of moving past this.

Right now, my cancer experience is affecting me and I have to make a lot of adjustments. There are some professional and personal goals that have to be shifted. I’m tired and worried about my family. I’m falling apart so I can put myself back together. I’m feeling some relief in admitting that, to myself and to you.

What Cancer Leaves Behind

Have you seen this video produced by the Mental Health Channel at the University of Texas?

It’s worth a look because in less than 6 minutes it encapsulates many of the feelings cancer survivors face.

Robyn, a PhD student at UT who had endometrial cancer, speaks eloquently about the duality of going about her daily business, while having an entirely different awareness of the fragility of life.

Check it out:

In your experience, what does cancer leave behind?

Grateful Warrior?

Lydia confides that she feels sad and depressed most of the day, lacking energy to move forward on her goals for self care and to enjoy her life more.  On top of feeling depressed and fatigued, her inner critic blames her for not “getting over it.”

If only it were that easy.  Who wouldn’t “get over it” if they could?

The reality is that emotional healing takes time and support.  For me, healing came in stages-and I needed to have safe spaces that supported me in expressing what I was really feeling-even years after active treatment.  And 10 years later, there are pieces that I still need to revisit-especially when it has to do with a side effect continuing to need attention (like lymphedema or osteoporosis) or ways I notice my life is different than it might have been.  Time helps tremendously with the acceptance and integration of my cancer experience, but it’s still an ongoing process of observing and expressing my feelings.  The more I express my feelings, especially the “negative” ones, the lighter I feel and the more energy I have.

Many survivors are reluctant to share “negative” feelings, believing (often correctly in my opinion!) that loved ones prefer to see the Grateful Warrior face of your experience, not the lingering effects of a traumatic experience.

Gratitude and grit have no doubt been part of your journey, but they are not the whole story.

Recent research in neurobiology finds that ignoring or repressing emotions or memories does not make them disappear. Instead, the limbic system, the emotional part of the brain, stays activated as though the initial experience is actually happening.

 You might not be talking about it, but you are still feeling unexpressed emotions, in the mind or in the body.

To heal, you must find safe spaces and people to acknowledge and express yourself.


Kelly’s Podcast On Emotional Healing

Emotional suffering and mental health challenges are side effects of the cancer experience that often go unaddressed.

Your life is turned upside down by the shock of the diagnosis, and grueling treatments affect your nervous system, hormones, sleep, range of movement and body function. Relationships are tested and financial worries take center stage. Sometimes there is lingering pain. Always there is some fear of recurrence or spreading.

Your medical team is rightly focused on eliminating or holding the cancer at bay. And many cancer patients and survivors are fortunate to be supported and cared for by loving communities.

Yet survivors sometimes feel a pressure to minimize how deeply they are emotionally impacted, in an attempt to “stay positive” or “spiritual” and to avoid making others uncomfortable by sharing their physical and/or emotional pain.

I’m on a mission to address emotional recovery in the cancer experience so that people can move past the “new normal” with vitality. I was recently delighted to be interviewed by the Therapist Uncensored Podcast about my 6 Principles for Emotional Recovery after Cancer. Check it out:



During a hurricane, the warning signs are there: the weather turns dark, the winds pick up, rains become frightening and torrential. You buckle down to survive.

The storm feels endless. Power goes out.

At the mercy of nature, you do what you can to be cautious, and you have the water, flashlight, candles, and snacks you need to get through. You are grateful for your friends and family and neighbors. Sometimes strangers show up to help at a crucial moment.

Maybe you get through relatively unscathed, except for the fear and worry about others.

But sometimes your house is barely standing or unrecognizable. It was far worse than expected.

People bring food, text messages of concern, drive you places, help you tear off the rotten wood and carry your belongings to the street for a while. There’s FEMA – not a great option, but better than nothing.

As time goes on, to others your struggle seems less urgent, and you hear from people less. They assume you are getting along better and of course they have their own lives.

The sky outside is blue and you can hear the birds chirp. Restaurants and stores are back open. The world is going on around you, even though you are still not finished rebuilding your house or your life. You are now on your own.


This hurricane comparison came from Robyn who sent me a message after reading a piece I wrote on how your emotions must be allowed to emerge in order to heal.

She likened cancer recovery to the aftermath of a natural disaster:  “It’s like a hurricane hit your life and even though you should just be grateful you survived it, dealing with the aftermath of it all takes so much longer than the actual hurricane itself…”

It’s true. Cancer, like other chronic and critical illness, hits your body and your personal life like a hurricane. And like hurricane survivors, it’s important to know it is not unusual to struggle greatly as you pick up the pieces of your life. Others are also experiencing the shock, fear, dread, anger, loss, gratitude, and joyful moments as you.

Though you know it takes time to heal, there’s pressure to move on quickly and be cheerful, even as you are confronted with painful or upsetting side effects: joint or bone pain, pain from surgery, chemobrain, lack of mobility, job loss, relationship problems, fatigue, just to name a few.

Still, it takes time to come to terms with the reality of what you have gone through. You have to get to know your body again, rebuild it, and adapt to changes in how you see the world, your relationships, and priorities.

Sometimes the pressure comes from within. You want so badly for it to be over. You expect yourself to fit right back in to your old life and schedule and priorities when everything about you has shifted and needs space and time and support to heal and re-integrate.


“I don’t want to have had cancer…” I sometimes hear from clients. The steps to recovery feel so overwhelming.

And yet, given no other option, you do move forward.

What helps manage feelings?

  • Reaching out instead of isolating.  Say what you feel. Let yourself cry and express anger.
  • Finding ways to move your body that feel safe and nurturing, even pleasurable to you: walking, swimming, yoga, dancing-all at your own pace. Check out Team Survivor activities in your community.
  • Attending support groups and getting therapy.
  • Asking your medical questions until you feel you understand.
  • Resting without guilt.
  • Writing about your pain and your feelings and your experience as though they were important. Because they are.
  • Long deep breathing.
  • Spending time with friends and family who are supportive. If they are draining to you, limit your time with them.
  • Being in nature.


Reality is, things may never be exactly the same.  Be honest with yourself about what you are feeling and find community who allow you to show up just as you are.


Photos are from my sister’s neighborhood in Houston following Hurricane Harvey.




The Thaw


Photo by Amy Hanley on Unsplash
Photo by Amy Hanley on Unsplash

The days seemed endless, and Michele marked them off in her calendar like a prisoner records days of a long sentence on the wall. Six months of weekly chemo followed by 6 months of infusions every few weeks. In between, there was surgery and radiation. She resisted anything slowing down her progress. She focused on the day she was declared free of the cancer and free to get her life back.

At the end of active treatment, little things that used to annoy her, barely registered. She had more perspective about what is important: family, health, showing compassion for herself and others.

Michele survived emotionally with positive affirmations and faith, and by sheer grit: grinning and bearing it. To assuage the worry and fear of others, she often appeared cheerful, squelching pain, disappointment, grief and anger.

In the months following the end of treatment, she begins to feel easily irritated, fatigued and emotional. She has trouble containing her feelings, and they erupt in a flash of anger or tears at inopportune moments. She’s hard on herself for lacking gratitude. She worries her lack of positivity will bring the cancer back.

Michele is not alone! In my Yoga and Talk® Groups and Classes for Cancer Survivors, I see this phase of recovery often and I call it “the thaw.”

The thaw can occur anytime during or after treatment and is hard to predict.

The shock and emotional numbness that offered (unconscious) protection from the trauma begins to wear off, often unevenly. Sometimes, you feel positive and grateful, other times the future seems plagued with danger and endless fear of recurrence. Effort can feel meaningless, your feelings raw or simmering below the surface.

You know how when your foot falls asleep and then you try to walk and you have to take your time and it’s awkward and uncomfortable? The emotional thaw is similar in that you have to take your time and people may need to wait.

While it can be deeply unsettling, in my experience, it’s also a signal that you are ready for emotional healing.

As your heart thaws and you come to terms with the reality of what happened to you, give yourself as much permission as possible to rest and allow the sensations and feelings to emerge, be understood and healed.

Here are a few ways to be kind to yourself during the thaw:

  1. Know that tears are the body and mind’s way of cleansing. It’s a way of integrating your experience, so the thought and feeling are not separated inside you.  If you need to cry, cry until the tears are gone for the moment. Don’t try to stop the tears. Stay with the feeling.  It won’t last forever. Michele recently told me that she lets herself cry in the house, car, and shower.  When the tears come, she welcomes them and tries to squeeze every last one out.  Sometimes people cry in yoga class or in my groups and because they are in public, they try to turn it off and feel embarrassed. At least in my classes, I say bring it on – it’s a sign that you are cleansing and integrating.
  2. Find ways to discharge grief and anger physically, through exercise or art.
  3. Vent to a trusted friend or support group. Be willing to name what you are actually feeling and be heard. If someone can’t be there for you, don’t blame yourself. But look for others who can be present even when you are sad or angry.
  4. Seek out a therapist to help you piece together the cancer experience in the context of your life. Is there unresolved prior trauma that has been triggered and now needs healing as well? Do you need help sorting through complex relationships?
  5. If you can’t stop crying or raging, and I mean 24/7, not just allowing the tears to flow, or if you are not sleeping at all, PLEASE see a therapist or doctor.  There is much support to be gained.
  6. Look for community where you can show up exactly as you are in this moment, transformed. Both the same and different from how you were before cancer.
  7. Get bodywork – massage, acupuncture, physical therapy, yoga. Your experience has been stored in your body and will benefit from gentle care.

It’s messy to thaw out and more than a little painful.  But to gain vitality and wellness, the thaw is essential. Grief and anger must be felt, not stuffed inside or disowned, only to leak out or keep you numb.  And you must be supported in this process-don’t isolate.

Deeper emotional healing, truer relationships, and re-connecting with the pulse of your life is on the other side.

Over the next 6 months, I’m going to focus on the Role of Emotions in Healing. I hope you will join the conversation by leaving me a comment on the website about your experience with the thaw and questions about feelings and cancer and how they relate.