Boxing for Mental Health

18-year-old Isla MacIntosh discusses how boxing helps her cope with her mental stressors

Isla MacIntosh, childhood cancer survivor

Taneisha: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your experience with childhood cancer?

Isla: I was diagnosed with leukemia when I was four years old and have been in remission since the age of seven. I work at a golf course in Ottawa and I just finished my first year in the Behavioural Science Program at St. Lawrence College.

Taneisha: Other than your family, does anyone else know about your diagnosis? Did you have to miss any school due to your cancer and its treatment?

Isla: My parents mentioned it to people they knew and our surrounding neighbours and, of course, my school knew. I missed kindergarten entirely so my first year attending school in person was in Grade 1. Everyone was very supportive.

Taneisha: Do you feel you continue to get the support you need?

Isla: My sister has done everything she could to support me ever since I was young. She pretty much gave up her childhood because of me. In my early teens, I realized how big my diagnosis really was, and I needed to find an outlet to relieve stress. At 14, boxing became that outlet. My whole family is supportive of my boxing.

Taneisha: How did you discover boxing?

Isla: I found this youth recreational boxing class in Ottawa where I grew up. The coach was the first female boxing coach. She was a big inspiration to me because she had cancer so I felt that I could relate to her. She also helped me find a great boxing school when I started going to school in Kingston. Now I train 3-4 days in person and on the other days, I do dryland training. Dryland training means conditioning, running, weights and other strength activities.

Taneisha: How did boxing help you with your mental health stressors and how did it help you get through your first year of college?

Isla: When I moved away for school in Kingston, I found a safe place for boxing with nice people, which helped me not worry as much about school. Boxing is very technical. When you are in the middle of it, you have to focus on boxing and nothing else. It takes you out of any stressful situation you might feel you are in.

Taneisha: What are your goals—both for boxing and your education?

Isla: I like to compete so my goal for boxing would be to go to nationals. My goal for school is to find a full-time job that relates to behavioural science.

Taneisha: Do you have any advice for other childhood cancer survivors who are going through something similar to what you are going through?

Isla: My advice would be to find an outlet that is important to you, especially if you are older and there are external pressures. It could be sports, music or something else. An outlet can be a safe place for you to express yourself.

Taneisha Kandiah was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 18 months old. She has been in remission since the age of three. She recently graduated from the University of Ottawa in life sciences.

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