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.

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.


Tears at the Table

In a world that wants you to act relentlessly positive, even in the face of your own or others’ suffering, how can you make space for the authentic experience of your own feelings, sensations, and thoughts?

Can you make room for all of it? Can you give yourself permission to have the experience you are having RIGHT NOW – the thoughts, feelings and sensations that are part of your human experience, without trying to change anything or push it away?

I’m writing this post at the end of my birthday weekend – in which I have felt so blessed and loved and unbelievably lucky. I’m delighted to be STILL HERE, enjoying the moment with my daughter and husband and friends and family and all of you.

But I have to tell you, having a birthday, especially a big one, can be a mixed bag!

My daughter, husband and I traveled for one night to San Antonio to celebrate. There were moments of genuine pleasure on our short trip, but I also felt overwhelmed several times by feelings of irritability, nostalgia, and even grief. I was surprised to be missing my grandparents, who lived in San Antonio and whom I used to visit regularly. I felt their absence sharply, like I haven’t in many years.

Then there was annoyance at mixed up dinner and brunch plans, poignancy in realizing I’ve been with my husband for exactly half my life (we met when I was 25 and now I’m 50), love and joy with my daughter’s delight in the history and beauty of the old hotel where we were staying, irritation at her loud complaining about the food not being exactly what she expected.

I felt gratitude for making it to 50 and shame at feeling having tears over minor annoyances, upsetting my sweet family who were trying really hard to be on their best behavior and make the time nice for me.

The more I tried to push away the sadness and irritability to just be grateful, the more it showed in the form of impatience or tears.

Can you relate?

That’s when I remembered what I tell people in class: Make room for this. Make room for the full experience, the sadness and irritability, the love and the appreciation, the anger and the grief.

Why is it important to make room for the feelings instead of shutting them down or pretending nothing’s wrong? Because shutting feelings down doesn’t make them go away. You end up acting them out even more OR you continue to experience the effects of the suppressed anger and sadness – your immune system and nervous system work overtime, because instead of allowing the feelings to come up for a few uncomfortable (even embarrassing moments) and then moving on out, they take up residence inside you.

I tried to give myself space for the feelings, even though to be honest it didn’t make me look very graceful. Luckily my family can be very forgiving, especially when I assure them it’s not their fault I’m crying at the table on my birthday!

And then the feelings moved through..












Beyond Pleasure and Pain

Cancer Survivors (like all humans) are often moving emotionally between feelings of gratitude and difficulty tolerating discomfort or pain. We long to hold on the the moments of pleasure and turn away from discomfort. Learning to observe the present moment helps us to tolerate and sometimes even appreciate what is happening. Short guided meditation.


Setting Intentions for Healing and Growth

Stay focused on what is truly important to your healing and peace of mind by setting intentions for your meditation practice or simply as a daily exercise. This video leads you through a simple practice for becoming aware of your deeper intention for your day.

Gratitude Meditation

This meditation is for remembering the many things-including relationships- that we already have and are grateful for.  Inhale what you are grateful for, exhale a fear.  It can be anything that comes to mind, a warm place to live, your cat, a healthy meal, friends, loved ones, etc.

Breathe in through the nose, exhale through the mouth, then inhale through the mouth, exhale through the nose.  Switch AFTER THE INHALE.

Breathe your way into appreciation as a meditation wherever you happen to be: home alone, Thanksgiving table, waiting in line, the doctor’s office.

I’m breathing in gratitude for the JoyBoots community today.