Survivorship 0 comments on Back to Life, Back to Reality?!? Finding our way when active treatment ends

Back to Life, Back to Reality?!? Finding our way when active treatment ends

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the annual Young and Strong conference at Dana Farber in Boston.  The Young and Strong Program was created to support the emotional and physical needs of young women, 19-39, who are diagnosed with breast cancer.  The annual conference is a blend of personal stories, clinical updates and questions, opportunities to engage in experiential activities and connection.  It is a nice blend that brings together the community.

Each time that I have been, it fuels my inspiration and mission, in addition to offering a time to connect to the sisterhood no one would ask to join, yet becomes like a second family- even if you have only just met.  To stoke our resilient fires, we are well served by these opportunities to connect.

This year, one story that captured my attention was a woman who was recently diagnosed and treated for early stage breast cancer.  In an effort to assure her that her prognosis was good, the oncologist called her cancer a like a “baby” in terms of being small and that treatment would just feel like a summer project.

While the intentions may have been from a desire to help, the ramifications were anything but.  Initially, she sat with confusing feelings, trying to wrap her head around the notion that having a potentially life threatening diagnosis wasn’t a big deal.  She didn’t feel like she needed to ask for the help of family and friends, nor initially did she think she should be a candidate for receiving support services.  Fortunately, this did not prevent her from eventually engaging with the Young and Strong services, but it did take time to believe and accept that she was worthy of them.

Now that she is out of active treatment, the inevitable wall of feelings and experiences is descending upon her.  And while intellectually she was anticipating it, based upon listening to the stories and advice from fellow survivors, it is still impacting her ability to find her way through it.

There is a movement within the cancer community to try and better address the issues of survivorship, a deep desire to help.  However, unlike the various tests and tools we have to measure and dissect cancer, there is no “objective” measure for how far along someone is in the emotional healing process.  No one can take a tube of blood from your arm and come back with a diagnostic report: 5% chemo brain, 15% fatigue, 20% PSTD, 30% of triggers neutralized, 50% emotionally healed… and so forth.

Cancer treatment is not fun, but generally there is both a game plan of how treatment and it’s side effects will be managed. We can have a survivorship plan to work off from, but it is going to be a lot more comprehensive to be successful, and it requires the ability to live with a lot of uncertainty about how fully you can recover in addition to managing the fears of recurrence.

It was my experience from my first Young and Strong conference that helped me conceptualize my role in serving others who are in treatment and in survivorship.  We may never be the same again (honestly, what major life experience has ever landed you right back where you were?), but we do not need to accept that we will never “get over” having had cancer.

If you are struggling to reclaim your life, Creative Transformations is offering a lecture in partnership with the MaineHealth Learning Resource Center and the Cancer Community Center on November 13, 2017.  The lecture is free and open to the public, for pre-registration, please click on this link.  If you are not able to attend yet want assistance in building your survivorship plan, I offer cancer coaching both in person and online.  Or connect to your local cancer support resource center for professionals in your area who can help.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Body, Healing Mind, Healing via Creativity 0 comments on The tentacles, layers and roots of our lives

The tentacles, layers and roots of our lives

Have you ever had the experience of talking about one life event, only to have it trigger all sorts of thoughts, feelings and memories that initially would have seem unrelated?  I see this happen all of the time in my own life and in the conversations that I have with clients.  When it happens, people often express surprise at how the conversation can wander in such unexpected ways.

To which, I always smile and reply:

Talking about our personal lives often feels like a series of interconnected tentacles, layers or root systems, and that our bodies and minds store them together- even when we might not have considered throwing them into the same box.  It is the quality of the emotions that are present which set off a wild and spontaneous ride through our psyche

As a therapist, I am always thrilled to see this happen in session, because it is evidence that the individual feels relaxed enough to just follow the path that is being laid out by our psyche.  It can almost feel like a state of being awake and dreaming, because we are unpacking the box as it is, rather then predetermining what was in there in the first place.

To stimulate this processing, we often look for a jump off point in a person’s story, or use a prompt to get the juices going.  This is the intention behind the individual art therapy sessions that have been designed to help heal emotionally from cancer and other life threatening experiences.  To fully heal from cancer, it is going to take time, and I wanted to design a tool that people can use as they move forward with their lives.

As Shai Tubali writes:

Emotions cannot evolve though intellectual comprehension; there must be direct access to them, access that allows them to go through a transformation from the plane in which they actually exist

When we find our leap off point, and then explore through art, writing and ultimately sharing through talking, we find ourselves leaning into what has happened and experiencing the emotions through an observational place- as we are trying to represent them in some way.  This allows us greater ability to move in and out of a painful experience, rather then going around and around in an unending thought loop inside of our minds.  The result allows us to begin the process of transformation.

Sometimes we need to move in and out of something rather quickly, in order to get used to the process.  Kind of like moving your body in and out of the ocean in order to acclimate it to the temperature, before leaping in completely.  If we respect our pacing while challenging ourselves to continue to move towards fully jumping in, we will find a greater trust in our own ability to do so.

So tell me, where do you wish to begin?

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Self, Survivorship 0 comments on Reaching towards

Reaching towards

Prior to experiencing cancer, my psychotherapy practice had specialized in eating disorder and trauma work, which I continue to do and love. This weeks blog is inspired by the difficult and life changing work that these clients take on as they heal, and the parallels I see with healing emotionally from a life threatening illness.

Reaching towards… it is an act of bravery, reaching towards how you want to feel and be, through the walls and barriers that have been constructed in order to keep that you safe.  The protection that may have once been necessary in order to survive, but now has become so life limiting that it threatens the very life the walls were built to protect.

Reaching towards… it is an act of faith, because you are reaching towards something that will hopefully serve you well, while recognizing that their is great uncertainty in its outcome.

Reaching towards… it is an act of breaking the stagnancy, of recognizing you have done what you can emotionally and physically to take the next step, and now the one thing left to do is to take the next step.

Reaching towards… takes us out of the zone in which we feel comfortable (even if it is not comforting), and into the zone in which we grow.

When you have cancer, there can be a sense of urgency to make important changes within one’s life and self, especially if you have been given the gift of a clean bill of health.  This urgency can become paralyzing at times, especially when we are feeling vulnerable to what we have been through.

If this is the case for you at this time, what might you imagine that first step to be?  How might you begin to reach forward in your life, while safeguarding some time and energy for processing what you have been through?

It is times like this, when I look for inspiration in the poem “The Journey”, written by Mary Oliver.  Sometimes the voices she references are those of others who perhaps hold us back; however, sometimes the voices she references come from the fear we hold inside about the unknown.  Whichever may be true for you, can you take the spirit of leaving it all behind, in order to reclaim your own unique voice?

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice-

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determine to do

the only thing you could do-

determined to save

the only life you could save.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Self, Healing via Creativity 0 comments on Storytelling, a powerful tool for healing

Storytelling, a powerful tool for healing

This week I had the opportunity to do an in-service for the Dempsey Center staff about Expressive Arts Therapy. It gave me the opportunity to share again the healing power of art through the example of the breast casts that I used to process my cancer experience, which was powerful.

However, it was what happened after the presentation, when we moved into the experiential exercise that really spoke volumes. I asked everyone to get in touch with either something personal or an experience related to their work of being in service to cancer patients and their loved ones.  I asked them  to go inside and figure out how they felt about what they chose, the impact it has had on their body, mind, spirit, and self. When they were in touch with what they wanted to explore, I asked them to represent it through color, shape and form.

What came forth was a reminder of how powerful it is to take the risk and share your story. The exercise of putting it out onto paper made the stories more tangible to tell, and when the story and images were shared, it added depth and richness to the experience. In that moment of witnessing, we became more intimately connected to one another, seeing our different roles from a new lens.  For a moment, we embodied the experience of another, which in turn allowed us to connect more deeply to our own.

This form of art making, the visual journalling process, is a practice of being in silence with ourselves, in an active, curious way.  Silence can be an intimidating prospect for many, especially in the world we live in.  Yet silence allows us to create an attunement to our inner world and an attunement to the experience of others, strengthening our capacity for compassion.  Since art making is a form of moving meditation, it can build a bridge to feeling greater ease with silence.

It takes courage and trust to share something personal. It takes time to build confidence and trust with the ability to share, so be gentle with yourself if you are not ready to share actively with others.  The rewards we reap from sharing and witnessing help stoke the fire of resiliency and decrease our sense of isolation.  As one of my favorite quotes reminds me:

If you ask me what I came in this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud ~ Emile Zola

So tell me, what is the story you wish to share?

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Self, Healing via Creativity 0 comments on Unexpected opportunities

Unexpected opportunities

In a couple of weeks, I will be packing up my boobs and mailing them off to Illinois.  That is, the casts of my breasts, that I have used as the canvas to process my experience of having cancer.  They will be a part of an art show, curated by the artist Caren Helene Rudman, at the Evanston Art Center titled “Undefinable: Women’s Health in America”.  I am so thrilled and honored to be included with this group of artists, who are exploring a wide range of health issues and their impact on each individual artist.

I’ve never been in an art show before, and thinking of myself as an artist can send me cringing.  Yet, when I look at what I produced thus far, I do feel deeply that each cast really reflects my experience, and that lends me confidence to send a piece of myself off to be witnessed by others, and hopefully be in service of whatever healing they are seeking.  Since this is an opportunity that found me, I am going to trust that I am worthy of it.

Having a life threatening illness is not something that any of us wishes for; however, the unexpected opportunities that arise because of it often bring richness into our lives.  In particular, the retreats and conferences that exist for the survivors.  I recently presented the workshop, Building Resiliency, at a breast cancer retreat weekend that has been operating for 30 years.  Listening to the women, it was clear that while none of them ever wanted to have cancer, the relationships they built with other survivors and life transformations that happened as a result were priceless.

Being a part of that club gives us the opportunity to confront the 4 universal fears that I have referenced before- fear of being along, of dying, of losing freedom, of losing our sense of purpose.  Facing them head on is an opportunity to grow, to evaluate the direction of our lives, and to consider making some changes that allow us to question what might be expected of us and take chances by going the unanticipated path.

Recognizing the opportunities doesn’t mean squelching the much needed grieving process that any significant loss of innocence entails, it is the opposite.  In order to fully live each breath that we are given in this life, it is important to create space for the full story to co-exist side-by-side.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Intimacy and Parenting, Survivorship 0 comments on For our co-survivors, take 2

For our co-survivors, take 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how our children are our co-survivors when we are diagnosed with cancer. This circle clearly extends to our closest people, our partners, our extended family, our friends, and our community.

I was once a co-survivor as well, when at the age of 19 and then 25, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first and final time. I recall witnessing her fear of recurrence between the two episodes and listening to her share how she was healing her body through massage after her first round of treatment.

When I think about the time we had as co-survivors, I remember feeling very uncertain and concerned about the fears she was having. I wanted her to feel better, but I was not sure how to help besides listening. Perhaps I tried to convince her to not worry so much, as we often do when someone is frightened. I’m not sure, but I hope that she felt supported.

As I observe how my husband and closest family and friends have been impacted, one common denominator seems to be that as I return to health, they begin to share little snippets of what it was like to witness the impact of cancer and it’s treatment.

It is natural to want to protect someone from full awareness of the big picture, especially when they are in the middle of the storm.  However, at some point, if we wish to maintain and deepen our intimacy, we need to find ways to begin to unpack what the experience was like for everyone involved.  When we begin that process, we are likely to come up against the common communication challenges.  To list a few:

  • Avoiding tough topics- time may heal wounds, but if we use this as a strategy, we run the risk of creating bigger wounds
  • Becoming defensive, quickly moving into the fight mode, often a sign that we are feeling triggered and vulnerable
  • Becoming overwhelmed- getting flooded with emotions and feeling unable to re-ground yourself
  • Shutting down- feeling overstimulated by the intensity of situation and retreating

Some of us can stay cool as a cucumber in the face of adversity. However; since cancer asks us to confront the four universal fears (of dying, of being along, of losing freedom, of meaninglessness) in addition to the fact that most of us have little “training” for doing so, let’s assume that initially it is going to be a little rough on ourselves and our loved ones as we find our way through processing what has happened.

Here are some thoughts of how to set up yourself for success when preparing to communicate about something tender.

  • Be thoughtful about creating connection- it is so easy to get disconnected in our busy lives, finding simple ways to connect briefly can help maintain our ability to stay together in the storms of life
  • Create a secure and safe bond, through communicating interest, acceptance and love
  • Check in with the other person, to see if they are emotionally available to connect, and if it is not a good time then make a plan for the near future
  • And when you do start to process, take your time.  When we take small steps, we can more easily observe how we are doing with vulnerability.  If the communication challenges start showing up, it is probably a sign that it is time to take a break.

Hopefully, with a little time and intention, the challenges of co-survivorship will ultimately bring more depth and joy into your most intimate relationships.  When we nurture our relationships through the dark night of the soul, we can uncover hidden gems and foster a mutual deep appreciation and connection with those who have shown up to be by our side.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

 

Healing Mind, Survivorship 0 comments on Facing uncertainty, from diagnosis to survivorship

Facing uncertainty, from diagnosis to survivorship

Uncertainty… it is an uncomfortable passenger along for the ride when you have been told you have cancer.  It plays a central role during the diagnosing phase, can settle down during the treatment phase, and really kicks into high gear when active treatment ends, the time of transition when either all intervention strategies are completed or perhaps you go onto a preventative medicine to decrease recurrence probability.

When active treatment ends, it can be a time of celebration, yet for the individual it is often a time of conflicting emotions.

Active treatment for cancer can feel grounding, in that there are typically concrete goals and strategies that the medical community takes to address the cancer.  Even though the plan can frequently have bumps in the road, especially regarding the physical body’s capacity to withstand the treatment, it is still a plan nevertheless, and your medical providers are keeping a close eye on how you are doing with it.

When active treatment ends, there is a notable slow down with the multitudes of appointments you have been attending.  The appointments provide structure and a lot of contact with medical professionals, which have a protective quality, a life preserver that keeps your head above water.

Whereas, survivorship feels a lot like one of those trust fall activities- you are standing, arms open wide, on the verge of letting go, falling blindly, back into the arms of those who have agreed to catch you. It takes tremendous courage to leave the ground that feels so solid- yet if you wish for full emotional recovery, the only way to get there is to go through it.

Facing uncertainty often involves tightening up the body, pulling in to decide if you have to fight or flee. This is totally appropriate when you are facing an oncoming car or something immediately life threatening, but when it is the possibility of life ending, tightening up is more likely to increase anxiety and distress, while decreasing resiliency.

This is why I am such a big fan of yoga, for the practice actively encourages to cultivate awareness of our tension while simultaneously inviting us to surrender to it- to take care of ourselves and be gentle rather than forceful with our stuck places.  If you are new to yoga, I encourage you to start with one of the more slower, gentler forms- like Hatha or Kripalu.

On November 13th, Beth Eilers of Healthful Counseling and I will be giving a presentation at the Cancer Community Center in South Portland, Maine.  Offered in collaboration with MaineHealth Learning Resource Center, our presentation, “Back to Life, Back to Reality?!”, is all about navigating survivorship. It is free to attend, pre-registration is required, which you can do right now by clicking on this link.  We look forward to meeting you!

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Self, Survivorship 0 comments on For when you’ve lost your way in the sea of normalcy

For when you’ve lost your way in the sea of normalcy

Have you ever felt adrift in a sea of normalcy? In which everywhere you look it appears as if everyone is carrying on as usual, and you are not, even though on the surface it may appear as if nothing has changed…

It’s soccer season here in the Northeast, the crispness of fall air is starting to appear, and I am on the verge of my 3rd cancerversary.  I was diagnosed just days after my youngest started kindergarten, and just a week or so into their fall soccer season.

Every weekend, just a few blocks from our house, the fields would morph into a sea of kids all dressed in their uniforms and parents, eager to watch their kids and connect with their adult friends.  The year I was diagnosed, it was such an odd place to be in, I was immersed in a sea of normalcy, while my life was anything but normal.  I might as well have been lost on an island, because as hard as I tried, I really could not connect with what was going on.

We were coming to terms with what was happening to us.  We were shell shocked, so to be out and about in public felt like being in an alternate dimension, kind of like the Twilight Zone.  Everything looks familiar- but there is a certain quality of surrealism and unease that keeps you from fully relaxing.

Cancer, of course, is not the only thing that puts us in that boat.  Any significant life change can create that jarring sense of discord, even when the change is positive.

Besides coping with the actual curve ball that has been thrown your way, the other major challenge of these moments is sitting with the unknown and sitting with our mortality.  Even when the prognosis looks promising, on some level we are being reminded that no one lives forever.

It’s understandable if your gut instinct is to want to paddle like hell to any possible shore that you can find.  Yet often there is value with learning to accept the fact that you are adrift, and rather than rushing away from it, finding a way to center and ground yourself enough to simply be with it.

There was a story this summer in the paper of a family with local ties, who had recently returned after sailing around the world for 6 years with their young children.  The family had spent time living in various communities, but they also were often at sea for long periods of time.  In the interview, I was struck by how the youngest child described his response to the high seas, storms and ocean crossings:

“I was asleep the whole time,” he said with a shrug. “They’re just big waves.”

If you find yourself adrift, perhaps you can borrow some of the essence of what this 9 year old did instinctively, re-defining what could have been catastrophic into something more manageable, yet honoring what is rather than minimizing it.  It’s going to take some time before you find your way, and through acceptance we reduce the suffering that we feel in this moment of uncertainty. As Pema Chödrön wisely advises:

Sticking with uncertainty is how we learn to relax in the midst of chaos, how we learn to be cool when the ground beneath us suddenly disappears

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Intimacy and Parenting, Survivorship 0 comments on For our co-survivors

For our co-survivors

I heard this term recently, in reference to our loved ones, who are by our side (in a helpful way- or not) as we go through the process of being diagnosed and treated for cancer.  It resonated with me, in part because of the impact my mom’s cancer had on me personally, but also for the impact I observed on my family, friends, and extended community.

For example, recently my children had the opportunity to meet my oncologist in person, when we were at our local Tri for a Cure event.  My oncologist is a warm and genuine person, and I was so excited to have the opportunity to introduce her to my children.  To have two very important sides of my life to meet one another.  Initially, the boys were shy and reserved, which was not a surprise per se, but when I asked them about what they thought of meeting her, I was surprised by what I heard.

It was scary…

On the surface, the interaction was pretty normal.  They were shy and then she made a joke and they relaxed a bit and talked briefly.  But when they told me how they were really feeling, it was a wake up call that the trauma of having their mom go through cancer was still very real.  In their minds, my oncologist was not the person who saved my life, she was the person who represented the fact that I could have died.

As a mom, I want to protect them from scary experiences, I want to protect them from still being scared that I will die.  We are fortunate that overall the boys are functioning pretty normally, but this is a reminder that it is important to continue to be tender with them and to keep in mind that as well as I know them, I do not always know what is driving their reactions to things.

The only thing I can do, is continue to work on being a safe person for them to share their thoughts and feelings, and to get them help when needed.  Some of the signs that indicate that you may want to bring your child to a therapist (or to engage in family therapy) are:

  • they are having difficult at home, in school and beyond
  • they are isolating from friends
  • they are regressing
  • they are incredibly sad and worried
  • their sleeping habits or appetite has changed
  • they have developed self destructive behaviors
  • they talk about death, or thinks about it repeatedly

If you have faced a life threatening illness, it is not uncommon to see the behaviors listed above, especially talking about death.  It’s normal, but if the behaviors persist, then it is a sign that your child is struggling to manage the stress that a significant illness brings.

It is important to communicate with all of the important adults in the child’s life (teachers, guidance counselors, close friends’ parents, their primary care doctor, and so forth) and then look for resources in the community- social workers connected to the oncology practice, non-profit cancer centers that offer child and family services, outpatient mental health providers, and so forth.

Our kids are not the only co-survivors in our life, but frequently they are the ones we focus upon first.  I will discuss the impact on our other co-survivors soon.  Until then…

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Body, Healing Self, Survivorship 0 comments on What does furniture off-gassing and emotional healing have in common?

What does furniture off-gassing and emotional healing have in common?

Yes, I am trying to make you smile, but actually I also believe that this metaphor has a lot of significance. Here’s how it works in my mind…

Several years ago, we bought a Tempurpedic mattress. Once it was set up, we were so delighted that we would be sleeping on the most comfy mattress we had ever had. However, in order to fully reap the rewards of the mattress, we needed to accept and move through the off-gassing process. We couldn’t avoid it, we certainly weren’t going to return the mattress, because we knew that in the long run it was all going to be worth it.

The emotional healing process is quite similar. There are going to be times that we begin to reap the reward of taking the time and energy requires to heal ourselves; however, to do this we must walk through the process of off-gassing, i.e., releasing the aspects of your experience that caused suffering. When you have been diagnosed with cancer, your body, mind, spirit and sense of self has to store these events that we can’t fully process in order to cope with the crisis we face.

As we begin to heal, the triggers which set off the cascade of unfinished healing reminders, are kind of like the process of furniture off-gassing. It can strike us at unexpected times, prevent us from feeling fully comfortable, and the only way to heal it is to find ways to support yourself through the process.

So why are metaphors important in healing?  They are important because they help to transform something that is deeply personal, quite vulnerable, and subject to self criticism/judgment into something that is more compassionate, more universal, a part of the human experience- allowing ourselves to see the possibility that we are not alone but rather a part of a community of fellow travelers who are also working through similar challenges.

Metaphors can also help to normalize and validate our experience.  We’d love to have our mattresses off-gas completely the moment we obtain them, but in reality it is a process of unfolding that takes time.  When we become more realistic about what it means to heal, we can begin to accept the process rather than fight it.  We can remind ourselves that eventually the mattress no longer smells like chemicals; therefore, if we allow ourselves to feel through an experience, one day those triggers will not be as painful as they once were.

Like the mattress, our bodies hold the most raw, unrefined aspects of our life experiences.  Our physical self is the receptacle of the energy and sensations that we have trapped inside in order to survive.  These sensations can not be rationalized or avoided, so we need to create the skills and conditions that allow them to be felt, understood, and released.

Like that song I used to sing as a kid, “Going on a lion hunt”, advised:

Can’t go over it.
Can’t go under it.
Can’t go around it.
Gotta go through it.

So the real question is- what do you need in order to sustain yourself as you find your way through emotional healing?

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.