Recently I was in the company of my cancer peers and their loved ones.  It was an eclectic group of different cancers.  Watching the group process unfold always feels like a gift.  Each person contributes something to the pot, and then it all unfolds.  Stories of coming back from the brink of death, stories of finding love and building a future in the face of uncertainty, contemplating life altering decisions that need to be made, confronting the silence surrounding taboo subjects, or the missing links in the health care system that impact the dignity of choice.  These stories unfolded in the matter of 75 minutes, as we shared a meal together.  It’s powerful.

Our personal stories are the building blocks of our character and identity, of our moral compass and of how we show up for ourselves, our loved ones, and our community.  When we are brave enough to unpack them and share them with others, the benefits multiply.  Unpacking the story helps us to breathe new life into them, and perhaps new perspective into the purpose of why we had that experience.  It provides the opportunity to heal the unfinished business that lies within.  We are witnessed and hopefully validated.

At the same time, our story has the opportunity to impact the listener, finding a point of reference within the listener’s story, whether or not they chose to share it.  The listener may begin to feel their story that must be told, it can be motivating, validating, reminding, and so forth.  And thus the gift becomes reciprocal.

Storytelling within a group, is at the heart of working with the collective unconscious, the part of us that carries the memories of our ancestors that relate to the experiences of all humankind.  I believe the tradition of oral storytelling to transmit wisdom from one generation to the next is something found in every culture.  Therefore, it is imperative for us to find places in which we can share our stories, where they will be welcome and accepted, especially when they contain matter that is painful to confront.

Facing a life threatening condition, like cancer, often hastens the need to go deep and be authentic.  As I wrote in an earlier post, it is the dance of the infinite and finite.  Once you have faced a life threatening condition, you can no longer deny that in many ways we are all living on borrowed time.  This can cause a lot of disruption in one’s circle of loved ones, especially when you are young and the majority of your peers are not facing life and death circumstances.  Finding others who have becomes a deep need, for when we become to isolated we can suffer tremendously.  As Nietzsche once said “When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago”.  The group can provide us the connection we need to confront adversity.

If you seek a group, talk with your providers to see who is offering services in your area.  If you are having trouble finding a group locally, there are support groups offered via the internet.  Cancer.net and Cancercare.org are two places you may begin your search.

– 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. Creative Transformations offers individual sessions, in person or via Skype, 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.