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?



Tips for Sleep


After my weekly Wellness Warriors Yoga Class, a new student asked for ideas to help her sleep. A four time cancer survivor, she says she falls asleep ok, but wakes around 3am and lies sleepless for hours.

Insomnia-it’s the worst! I would wager that the majority of cancer patients and survivors experience it, as well as many in the general population.

Yogic postures, meditations, and lifestyle practices can help foster sleep.

This week, I’m sharing three (of the many) that you can do next to your bed when you experience sleeplessness:

1.Forward Bends-forward bends help you relax. Come into a gentle forward bend and begin to breathe long and deep. Enjoy breathing and your ability to stretch, no matter how far forward you come. Stretch one leg at a time to protect your lower back if you have pain or concerns about lower discs.

2.Table pose. Place your hands under your shoulders and your feet beneath your hips. Press the hips up until they are parallel to the floor. Look up at the ceiling. Eyes can be open or closed. Breathe long and deep and stay with the posture until you can no longer hold the position. Come down from the posture and relax a few moments. Then resume the posture. Continue to release tension by coming into the posture with slow, deep breathing until you find yourself worn out and ready to meditate.

3.Meditation for Sleep


This meditation uses 2 mantras from Kundalini Yoga as Taught by Yogi Bhajan: Sa Ta Na Ma (Cycle of Life-Life, Birth, Death, Rebirth) and Wahe Guru (expression of ecstasy and connection with the Infinite).

You can sit up in bed or sit on the floor or in a chair.

It has 4 parts:

  • First, take 4 even sniffs in through the nose. With each sniff, think to yourself one of the syllables of the mantra: Sa Ta Na Ma.
  • Then, suspend your breath in and think to yourself 4 rounds of Sa Ta Na Ma.
  • Next, exhale though the nose as you think to yourself Wahe Guru.
  • Eyes are either gently closed or focused at the tip of your nose.

In this short video, I explain the meditation and postures for relaxation.


Let me know your experience, questions, and need for modifications. Sweet dreams to you!

Which Side of Your NOSE are YOU Breathing Through? (and why is this important?!)


Before reading further, take a moment to feel connected to your body. Notice the sensations connecting you to a chair, the floor, or bed.

Breathe long and deep a few times, allowing your chest and belly to expand on the inhale like you are filling a balloon with air, and relax with the exhale.

Now bring your fingertips just below your nostrils and breathe out powerfully a few times. Can you discern which side of your nostrils is more open than the other at this moment? Left, right, or equal?

I’m going to share a secret about your body you probably never learned growing up or in school: several times a day, our bodies naturally change which nostril side is more open and easier to breathe through.

Why on earth is this important?!

Many of us, but cancer survivors in particular, struggle with fatigue, difficulty focusing, anxiety and insomnia.

Yogic breathing practices such as alternate nostril breathing can help you bring more prana (life force energy) into your body to manage the side effects of cancer.

At a given moment, the nostril side which is more open reveals the state of your mind and energy. You can even learn to track your mental state and physical energy by observing which side is more open or more blocked.

You have an incredible potential to change your state of mind and body by deliberately switching which nostril side is more open through alternate nostril breathing.

When I first learned about this and started using it in my daily life, I felt like I had a hidden superpower to lower stress, calm emotional reactions, make me more alert, reduce anxiety, and choose to focus.

But which side is which?

TO RELAX-Open the Left Side

When your left side is more open, you are usually calmer, more relaxed, less anxious. (You might also feel tired or sleepy, unfocused or fatigued). When the left side is more open, it is easier to fall asleep.

If you find yourself struggling to sleep, check which side of your nostrils is more open. With insomnia, based on my own experience, I can almost guarantee that the left side is blocked and the right side is open.

To encourage relaxation or sleep, block the right nostril and begin long deep breathing through the left. Continue for 3-11 minutes or until the dominance changes to the left. Lie on your right side to sleep, allowing the left nostril more ease at being open.

Anxiety: If you are feeling anxious during the day, check your nostrils. No doubt the right side is more open and the left side is blocked. Again, block the right side and begin long deep breathing through the left. You can practice anywhere!

Practice along with me to lower anxiety OR get ready to sleep by clicking here:http://www.kellyinselmann.com/monday-morning-videos/lower-anxiety-with-left-nostril-breathing/

FIGHT FATIGUE-Open the Right Side

When the right side is open, you are usually more alert and awake with higher energy. (You might also be feeling anxious or restless).

 If you need to stay awake, drive, study, listen to a friend or client, care for a child, block the left nostril with your left thumb and begin breathing long and deep through the right side for 3-11 minutes or until the dominance switches to the right.

To wake up, energize your body, focus, become more alert OR to lift your mood, practice along with me by clicking here:http://www.kellyinselmann.com/monday-morning-videos/energize-with-right-nostril-breathing/

Believe it or not, there are some yogis who, with practice, can learn to switch the dominance of the nostril without even using the fingers to block one side. Through deep self awareness and attention they are able to open up one side or the other.

 Let me know the results of your observations and experiments!