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: http://mentalhealthchannel.tv/episode/what-cancer-leaves-behind

In your experience, what does cancer leave behind?


At the end of one of my Yoga and Talk Therapy Workshops for Cancer Survivors, Lydia spoke up in a worried voice:

“I am now realizing how angry I am. But I have a question: Where do I put it?!”

I loved her question because it contains two very important insights.

First, Lydia recognized the anger she has been holding in her body, mind, and heart. She is suffering with pain and feels irritable as she recovers from surgery, yet holds herself to impossibly high expectations to be gracious to others in every moment.

She is self critical about how long the healing is taking and about needing assistance from her family. She is angry about the diagnosis and how it has affected many areas of her life.

Second, she’s ready to work with her anger. While it’s not so easy as finding a trash bin, working with your anger is not as scary as it can seem. Turning your attention towards your anger instead of repressing it can be the beginning of your healing.

Repressed anger often makes you feel numb, so it’s hard to enjoy the good moments. Repressed anger also comes out sideways and out of proportion, triggered by seemingly meaningless events or interactions.

Better to own your anger, find safe places to feel and express it so you can get your vitality back!

Compare, Compete, Confuse

“Compare, compete, confuse.” Yogi Bhajan

Have you seen all the posts on social media about resolutions for self -improvement and professional success in the New Year? There are endless programs to improve your life in every way – lose weight! Re-design your living room! Finish your book in 30 days! Be more politically active! Learn how to be a better parent or have the most perfect kid!

While intellectually I know better, I can feel triggered at times into old, critical self talk which focuses on how much more I SHOULD be doing. This comparison does not inspire healthy competition, but leads to distraction and confusion about what to focus on and dropping the ball from what REALLY inspires me.

Comparisons also happen a lot when faced with cancer and it’s aftermath. While going through treatment, you often hear about how others manage their cancer experience: Mary just “breezed right through it,” Sharon “rode her bike to chemo,” and Leslie “treated radiation like nap time.” Well, good to know but VERY different from how challenging many people find the whole experience.

After active treatment, survivors often feel they should be “over it” more quickly than is realistic and loved ones can encourage this view because they want you to go back to “normal” quickly.

Ten years after diagnosis, I want to remember a few things:

  • Go at your own pace. Treat fellow travelers on similar life paths with respect and maybe affection, but don’t let their steps knock you off your stride.
  • Be present with people when they are speaking to you. Especially your family. Nothing is more important.
  • Enjoy every chance to move your body. Don’t take this for granted.
  • Meditate every day, without judgment about how long or how perfectly.
  • The day is not wasted if you’ve found pleasure in it. Go out to dinner, see a movie, read a novel, show up at a party, appreciate the beauty of nature in your neighborhood, take a nap, play Monopoly with your kid. Laugh.

Healthy pleasures boost the immune system and make life worth living!