5 Ways to Slow Down while Dealing with Cancer


Marlys Johnson

Michelle, a running coach, approached me. “What about a weekly walking group for cancer survivors and caregivers?” Michelle’s class was officially named Walking for Wellness. My part as Survivorship Coordinator at the St. Charles Cancer Center was trail sweep—to hang out with the slowest walker so no one got left behind.

In all the years, I didn’t lose a single participant. But I repeatedly failed as sergeant-at-arms (if the role of sergeant-at-arms meant ensuring good behavior in public). Just last week, the group commandeered a pirate ship in a playground along the river. And in the process, we drove a few kiddos away. Oops.

Slow isn’t my normal speed. I walk quickly, type quickly, clean house quickly, stack wood quickly. It’s been good for me to slow down and enjoy the pace and camaraderie of the Walking 4 Wellness trekkers.

Iain Thomas writes this:

“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, ‘This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!’

“And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, ‘No. This is what’s important.’”

As we yank our hands back from the urgencies and pressures, there are plenty of things worth slowing down for. In no particular order, consider these 5 as a start:

1. Outdoor physical activity. “Slow and meandering with multiple photo stops” is par for the course with the Walking-4-Wellness group. And then there’s lingering over coffee and Chai tea afterward as deep friendships are forged.

What if we could engage in a slow, outdoor physical activity that would allow us to smell the roses along the path and refuel our spirits in the process?

2. Our people. When cancer caused my husband, Gary, to begin losing speed, I put away my to-do lists and slowed down with him. Reflective conversations. Playing Words with Friends. Reading or knitting as he dozed in the hospital bed in the living room. Relishing one more day with my beloved.

What if we determined to slow down for our spouses, children, and extended families and friends because there’s no guarantee they’ll be with us tomorrow?

3. Gardening. By its nature, gardening is a slowing-down event. As a cancer widow, I live in a beautiful little guest house on the side of a steep hill. My garden currently exists of one hanging flower basket. And although it doesn’t take me long to water and pinch off the dead flowers, after a recent discussion with a friend, I’ve been slowing down and drinking in the pleasure of tending to my garden. It’s not simply one more thing to check off my to-do list, but one more way to relish the simple joys of life.

What if we planted one container—one herb pot, one hanging basket, one leafy houseplant—and in tending to it, we were actually tending to our own souls?

4. Cooking.  My beautiful little guest house has a tiny kitchen with a plug-in hotplate, toaster oven, and small fridge tucked beneath the counter. But for Christmas Eve last year, I was in a vacation rental with a full kitchen. And what fun it was to slow down in the kitchen and spend some time cooking for friends who would be arriving later that evening.

What if we prepared something special for someone, not a required meal, but something unexpected and out of the ordinary and made in love? And what if that ending up feeding us as well – physically, mentally, and emotionally?

5. Reading, journaling, contemplating with gratitude. I love to brew a mug of tea. Grab a good book. Sit somewhere outdoors. Read. Contemplate life. Contemplate God and His creation. Capture my thoughts in writing. Add to my gratitude list.

What if something as simple as reading and capturing our thoughts in writing refilled us to once again have enough love and service to pour out on others?

Nanea Hoffman shared this thought:

“Note to self: When you are whizzing through your day and your body is full of stress, a good way to slow your galloping mind is to take one moment to be thankful, even for a tiny goodness. Gratitude anchors you to the present. Then you can jump back into your regularly scheduled chaos with a bit of calm in your heart.”

As surely as we need to do things, what if we could also take time to simply be?

Yes, things need to get done. Our loved ones need to be tended to. Meals need to be prepared, bills need to be paid, and appointments need to be kept.

But what if we could simply be in a book, in an art project, in a leisurely FaceTime conversation. Be in the music, in the daydreaming, in the journaling. Be with the people we love because, speaking from experience, we won’t have them with us forever.


Marlys was the caregiver of her husband Gary who lived ten years after being diagnosed with late stage prostate cancer. After his diagnosis, together they founded a non-profit called Cancer Adventures, sharing their story with groups across the country. After Gary’s death in 2014, Marlys has continued to share the underlying theme of her and her husband’s story: How challenges are a part of life but you have choices. She has a passion for helping people navigate life’s challenges, having negotiated a few herself.

6 thoughts on “5 Ways to Slow Down while Dealing with Cancer

  1. Thank you for this reminder that “slow” has many benefits. Although I was never a speed demon in my life, Cancer has slowed me even more. I do relish the quiet moments when I can just “be.” I love to listen to the different layers of sound coming through my windows – birds, people talking, trash trucks, buses, etc. it’s comforting to listen to the hustle and bustle of the outside world and then to focus on my silence.

    1. You said this so beautifully, Nancy: ” … the different layers of sound coming through my windows – birds, people talking, trash trucks, buses, etc. it’s comforting to listen to the hustle and bustle of the outside world and then to focus on my silence.” Thank you for sharing.

  2. I like your concept to slow down and enjoy I was warned 10 years ago that I would indeed get Pancreatic among bile duct cancer with in 10 years almost their now? When you mentioned St Charles did you mean Port Jefferson NY? If so I would like to join I have isolated myself from friends my husband has been at his parents for like 10 years now they need him but his brother lives across the street from my in-laws in Florida he’s not married but my husband left me his sick wife alone in NY ? So sad and depressed not because I’m sick but I love my husband and he doesn’t love me? He’s bathing his mother that’s wrong on so many levels I got the information for a nurse my father in law is a retired NYC FIRE MAN WITH GREAT BENEFITS FOR NURSE SERVICE? I DON’T UNDERSTAND DO YOU??

  3. Deena, I’m so sorry to hear about your potential health situation that’s compounded by the family situation. How wise of you to recognize you’ve isolated yourself, which isn’t for the best. If you could find a supportive community and get plugged in, that would be beneficial to you in so many ways.

    A few places to look for community (not knowing your age or location or interests): 1) If your health flares up, be sure to ask your medical team about cancer support groups within your area; 2) Check within your faith community to see what’s available for general camaraderie or opportunity to do service as a group; 3) Search online for meet-up groups in your area (there are meet-up groups for people who play Scrabble, or enjoy hiking, or cooking); or 4) Start a book club, or knitting group, or cooking club with a few local friends — anything that will give you human connection as you’re facing the possibility of cancer.

    Wishing you all the best in this season of your life.

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