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009: Finding Joy in the Chaos of Cancer

Updated: Jun 22, 2021


Episode Summary:

“The true measure of wealth is something you have created that cannot be taken by another”. Tammey shares with us the very distinct differences between happiness and joy, and the five key tools she used to intentionally cultivate a wealth and richness that emerges only from the symbiosis of triumph and suffering. Please join her in this episode and learn the transformative lessons of struggle.

Topics in this Episode:

  • Intro

  • Happiness vs. Joy

  • Embracing the pain

  • A mindful centering of self

  • Documenting gratitude

  • Idle Hands

  • “Into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”.

  • The literature of the soul

  • True wealth

  • Sign off

Contact Information and Social Links:


A special thank you to our sponsor, Riverdance Soapworks. Handcrafted products we personally use. Visit and let them know you heard about them from Tammey.



Hello, and welcome back to Your Killer Life. I am so excited to be here with you today and excited about this podcast episode. We are going to be talking about cultivating joy in the midst of chaos. And this is something I know can be done. I also know it is work... hard work, and I'm going to be sharing with you my five tips for getting there.

But before we start with the tips, before we get to the tips, let's talk about the difference between joy and happiness, because this is really important.

Look, we have all experienced happiness and many of us wish, and desire for exactly that, right? We want happiness. I will tell you that there are many times I wished upon a falling star.

Yes, it's embarrassing, but it's true. Most of my adult life, I would wish... that was my wish... on a falling star was happiness.

Happiness vs. Joy

But happiness is external and it is generally a result of something and, and it can be fleeting. Happiness can be present for a day for a moment for weeks, and then it can be gone.

Think about your last vacation. The last vacation you had maybe was two weeks in Hawaii. Maybe it was a camping trip for a weekend. Maybe it was a family reunion or maybe it was just an overnight staycation, but you experienced happiness in that vacation, but you might not have experienced long lasting happiness.

And in fact it might be that when you went back to work, you actually experienced the loss of that happiness.

Joy on the other hand is constant and there is a catch with joy though. Joy is cultivated. It's internal and it's work, right? You have to purposefully craft joy.

Joy is intentional.

So I've admitted on previous podcasts that I took photos the... throughout my whole process.

And I did that really, you know, for a number of reasons for me. And when we're all going through trauma, we all do different things and cancer. I didn't know how long I was going to be here. I, you know, you add surgeries and coming out of surgery and just all of the new experiences. And, and so I chose as part of my process to blog and to also take photos.

Now the photos I kept personal and I have started to share some of them on the, your killer life website. But for the most part, my photos were very personal and they were to help me remember and process my trauma. And then I blogged externally and shared that blog with the world. And like I shared on the previous two episodes talking about the mastectomy process, that was a very painful process for me.

And. I was very uncomfortable in my skin and I took photos. I have this, when I think about this, I have these two images that come to mind and I took the photos, just moments from each other.

One of those photos. And I'm topless. One of those photos. I am beaming. I'm leaning into the camera. I have a smile. I have a sparkle in my eye. I look confident. And I snapped that photo and I looked at it and I realized how it did not represent how I felt. And so I released everything that I had sort of created in that moment for that photo. And I took a genuine photo.

In that photo, same pose, same room, same lighting, same phone, same everything. But I had released the happiness that I had generated for the moment in that first photo. It showed no brightness, no smile, a heaviness, a darkness. It really shows how uncomfortable I am in my own skin, in that photo, which is kind of crazy, really that they're taken just seconds apart.

And I realized I had cultivated. I had over years of... honestly, truly just my job, what I did in my career, I was always able to turn it on and have that charisma be there. And seeing those two photos really made it so clear to me how I could create the air of happiness, but I was genuinely desperately lacking joy.

Author and researcher, George Valliant noted happiness, activates the sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates that fight or flight response, joy stimulates this parasympathetic nervous system and that controls the rest and digest functions.

He also noted that we can laugh either from joy or from happiness, but we weep from grief or joy

That hit me. That struck me. Happiness, displaces pain, joy embraces it.

Okay. I know, right? I think I just felt everyone who is listening to the podcast, I just felt you all take this collective... "Wait, what? Whoa. No, no, no. She did not just say that joy embraces pain."

There is a lot of pain in the wake of a cancer diagnosis. There is pain from the moment your ears, hear those words. There's trauma, there's fear. There's there's this sense of an undue end and an unjust end to your essence, to your life, to everything that you are building.

Embracing the Pain

It is so painful.

Embracing pain and discomfort for me. And I, again, I can only speak for me. It was about learning to make friends and embrace those things I could not control. And this is a tough thing. This is a really tough thing to do. I will tell you as one of those recovering Type A personalities that really wants to control everything, or at least I did.

And truthfully those aspects of my personality creating much success in my life. I had to learn to release that. And to embrace those painful parts and walk as friends.

That doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt. It doesn't mean that you are denying sadness. In fact, it means the opposite. It doesn't mean that you're not feeling pain. In fact, it means the opposite. It doesn't mean that I didn't suffer that I didn't have bad days that I didn't have dark thoughts that I didn't get angry, that I didn't wish my existence to cease in moments of great trauma and suffering because I had those.

It doesn't mean I was spared the darkness.

What it means is that I embraced those dark parts and I embraced that darkness and I walked with them into the light intentionally.

And it also doesn't mean that I figured it out just immediately. That it was an awakening one morning that said, "This is the answer. This is how I get my joy back. This is where I find true happiness. This is my step on that path..."

It was not some overnight realization. No, it took research. It took time. It took dedication. It took tools. It took reaching out, reaching up, trying new things. It took getting uncomfortable. It took embracing the uncomfortable. So... how did I get there?

A mindful centering of self

The first thing I did was began to learn to meditate. I know, I know. Now hear me out, those of you who are not practiced at meditation and especially those of you who may have a Type A type personality, meditation can be really hard.

So I had this expectation that meditation was supposed to be this complete void of thought. That somehow I could empty my mind and I am not sure what I thought I was going to find there once I had created this space, but I really thought that meditation was an absence of anything and yet, and it's taken me some time, and I'm still practicing by the way. I do not have this perfected at all. I found an app, so I found some tools. I found an app. I made the time. I started the practice.

And what I found is that it was quite the opposite. Rather than emptying my mind of everything that was going on. It was to gently acknowledge it and still bring myself back to center. So it was this shift, in thinking and experiencing the emotions in how it was that I was transforming them, myself, in making friends with all of that painful noise in the moments that I thought that it was noise and I was trying to control it.

So here I am, years later, and meditation is an everyday tool for me. When I am going from one client to the other, and especially if one client is very, very rushed and there's an urgency and the other client is very, very calm and in a different space, I can take three minutes. I can take less than that. Meditate. And recenter so that I am carrying forward intentionally the energy that is mine, the energy I want to carry forward.

In those moments where you're placed in the exam room. Before you hear the knock on the door, I can breathe and I can have a moment of meditation and I can recenter.

So I had originally attacked meditation, like this thing that needed to be owned and perfected. And I was just very task driven with it. That was not the answer. The answer was to find that centering and that calm and to be one, to acknowledge what it was that I was feeling.

But more thoughtfully and more mindfully.

Documenting gratitude

The second thing is a gratitude journal. This I unintentionally did as part of my blogging as I started the process.

And I think part of that was, I know part of it, I even blogged about it was just that I was trying to set my mind right. And so, every morning, especially at the beginning, I would wake up. I was counting down the days and I was recapping whatever it was that had happened or whatever it was that I was feeling and in doing so, I was really working hard to put my mind in the right state for the day. I was working hard to sort of, oh goodness, you know, I just, I really wanted to set the tone. And that was probably part of my Type A, but I wanted to make sure that, that I was not allowing myself to just submit to the chaos and that I was being thoughtful in my response.

A gratitude journal does not have to be a complicated thing. I think so often, you know, we think that there's only one way or a right way, or we approach something as though we have to perfect it and do it exactly like...

My gratitude? I keep it simple. Look when you're in the midst of everything going on with cancer, simple is the best tool. So, one thing once a day, every day. One. You can do as many as you want. My commitment to myself so that I could maintain gratitude on a daily basis was one thing, once a day, every day.

And admittedly, sometimes that one thing was a cup of coffee in the morning. Some days it was harder to find those things to be grateful for and experience the emotion of gratitude around, but see, with your gratitude journal, it's more than just making a list. It's feeling the gratitude associated with the thing that you're grateful for.

There's so much power and it is so important in being able to raise your vibration and have that sensation of feeling from head to toe. There's a difference in making a list and saying, I am grateful that I have, and I'll use a cup of coffee as an example. I'm grateful there's coffee this morning. And there is a difference between that and grabbing that mug, feeling its warmth, resting in the aroma for a moment and experiencing the gratitude of that cup of coffee.

Idle Hands

The third thing, making things. Yeah. So one of the things that I did postoperatively, um, was not much kitchen stuff, knives and hot things were probably not my friend immediately postop. So Griff pretty much took over the cooking and did all of that stuff. And I was pretty much the person who was doing the, um, I was coloring. I wasn't doing anything.

Making things brings me joy. Making things brings a lot of joy to me and postoperatively it was probably not the best thing for me to be doing. So I wasn't really in the kitchen, I was not baking and I wasn't cooking and I was not using sharp things that was Griff. But for me, I would color.

I still had to do things that would bring me joy, whether that's painting, whether that's coloring, whether that's, whatever it is. Using my hands and making things connected me and brought joy.

When I am overwhelmed. One of the things that I'll make is bread because bread to me is just one of those wonderful things that fills the house with a wonderful aroma. It is rewarding when it's done. It's a little bit of work. It takes a little focus. It is just to me, it brings me great joy and probably, I mean, baking brings me joy. That's probably why most of the recipes that I share are baking. Although I promise I'm going to share more anti-inflammatory fantastic food stuffs that are actual meals and not just baked goods.

But for me, baking brings so much joy. So making things, if you knit, if you paint, if you want to learn to do these things, and you've never had a moment to do it, take the time to experience the pleasure and the joy of making something. And the super cool part about making things is that it's scientifically proven that when we give things that we also receive joy. Right?

And so how cool is it that you can make something wonderful and share it? It's so much winning. There is so much joy in the process and there's so much joy in the giving and you're, you're just paying it forward. Carrying it forward. It is a beautiful thing.

“Into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”

So... meditation, gratitude, making things and getting outside.

So getting outside, this is one of my favorites and I have always done this. I, oh my gosh, from the first surgeries we were, we were canoeing two weeks after my mastectomies and all throughout the process of after every surgery, part of my healing was to get up, get going and to be in nature. Whether I was fishing, whether I was kayaking, whether I was canoeing, whether I was hiking, whether I was walking a beach, just being outside, it was so important to my recovery and to my joy.

And there are times for those of you that have been through this, and you're thinking how on earth with, with Tyrannosaurus Rex arms? Because post-mastectomy and, oh my gosh, especially after the expanders were placed, my arms guys, like it was not a good thing. And there were times that Griff literally had tied my kayak to his and he was paddling.

And I have no idea how I never fell in. But I would fall asleep in my kayak as he paddled us around North Bay, which is this beautiful area of the Puget sound. And he would be fishing doing his thing. And I would be experiencing all of those things that I needed, the smell of the salty air, the sound of the water against the kayak, the feeling of the sun against my skin, the cool water. One of my most favorite sounds is the sound of a bait ball as it kind of percolates in the saltwater.

So being outside was so critical to me for finding my joy and creating and cultivating that joy. I don't know if you can tell by listening to me, or if you're watching on YouTube by watching me, I can literally feel, as I'm talking about it, feel those moments. I can feel that and bring that to the surface. Anytime I need it, because that's my joy.

The literature of the soul

And then five, for me is listening to music. Now I wish I could play music and I have a little bit of envy for those who can, and I do have a guitar. I do need to learn how to play.

Mostly it is a prop that is behind me and my office and I guess is there for the Zoom meetings. I don't know, but I really do, I've always since I was a child, wanted to learn. So I guess now I'm asking you to hold me accountable because I'm putting it out there and I need to finally do it.

But music to me is critical to joy. And I have always been one of those that in the car, loud music, yes... singing terribly... I'm that person, all of it. So important to me to cultivate joy and in the house, if I have control of the remotes, I'm telling you the television is just a however many inch stereo to me, that's all that is because it is it's Pandora, it's YouTube. It's music because that is where I find my joy.

So the five, the recap, meditation, doing something with your hands, making things, gratitude journal, and getting outside, and my music.

But here's the deal. Cultivating joy is it's like bathing. You have to do it often. It's a regular practice. It is not this one and done. There's no, at least not for me.

There's no saying I did it. It's done. Never have to do it again. But that's also one of the amazing things about it is that it is an intentional daily practice. It's a choice. And because you cultivate it, hear me on this. Because you cultivate it, you cannot be denied it. It's yours.

True wealth

It can't be taken from you. You own it.

Joy is a mental state that every one of us, every one of us can have. And we can have it every day. Maybe not every moment of every day, but we can have joy every day.

In the book, The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran, he wrote, "Some of you say joy is greater than sorrow. And others say, nay, sorrow is greater. But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come. And when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other one is asleep on your bed."

I... it's amazing to me that it was the breast cancer diagnosis that really helped me to better understand this, to better understand how joy was mine to have and how joy was... was something that I could cultivate. And that my, my wish for happiness was only proving that I was looking externally for this thing that was rightfully mine, but I needed to grow and cultivate and own.

It's one of those gifts, that I didn't expect. In fact, frankly, I didn't expect any, any gifts from a cancer diagnosis. I don't know what I expected. I can tell you the many things that I felt with the fear and the trauma and the despair, the darkness, the anger, the, just that feeling of how unjust it all was, and that was definitely there.

And the pain medications, the prescription meds, they, they did not necessarily help me climb out of those dark places. I had to own that.

I had to make that decision, that joy was worth pursuing. That joy was worth finding that joy, no matter how long I'm here. Because I don't know. And I didn't know. And this is one of those, those harder things I think.

You know, I have folks ask me often. So are you in remission? Are you done? Are you cured? Are you a hundred percent? And I can't answer that with certainty. I can't.

So what I do know is that while I'm here, it is my opportunity to make it the absolute best that it can be for me... and for those I love... and hopefully for those I can touch in life in... whether it's through my business or the podcast.

Cancer gifted me, this awareness that joy is mine to have, mine to own, mine to build, mine to share.

But it's mine.

Sign Off

Thank you so much for joining me today. I would love to hear your tips on finding, creating, and maintaining joy. So please give a comment below if you're on YouTube or if you're out on the Facebook page, leave a comment or even tweet how it is that you find, create, and maintain joy and share that with other listeners and with anyone else who's going through the chaos of cancer and could use some tips on joy.

And speaking of which, I am wishing you so much joy and thank you so much for joining me today. And until next time, keep building Your Killer Life.

Remember the conversations you hear on the show are based on unique experiences and varying diagnosis. And we all had our own medical teams. We are not giving medical advice. So if you hear something inspiring, please talk with your providers.  

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