This morning I found myself with some extra time, and it allowed me to spend some time at my art table working on the breast cast that represents the conclusion of treatment. A few weeks ago, my creative self whispered an idea into my psyche and it really suited the metaphor of finishing the 9 months of active treatment.
I started to paint, and my consciousness started to drop into my body, into my memory of that moment. As I was feeling my way through, I quickly understood that this was representational of my experience but new awareness of the under layer of that moment struck me. I recognized something I never had consciously realized before, that part of my healing was related to my mom. She had breast cancer twice, the first time she finished treatment, she was in remission. The second time she finished treatment, she died two weeks later.
As I came to this understanding, my body tingled (a sign that I was on the right path), and my mind whispered- yes. My spirit tapped into the unprocessed grief around these two endings, and my Self recognized an aspect of the experience that was deeply tied into my own experience of treatment ending. A shared experience with my mom that we never had the chance to process.
I was in college during her first round of cancer, so while I was concerned and checked in frequently, I was not present for the day-to-day and I did not witness her ending treatment. The one clear memory I have is of her sharing the reason why she went to weekly massage for one year post treatment- to help her body heal and release the poison.
The second ending I was present for, she had a terrible reaction to her final chemotherapy treatment, and in the discussion that followed with her doctor, we all came to the conclusion that it was time to stop. I regret that I never had the chance to ask her about how she felt about ending (or if i did, I have no memory of it). I can make an educated guess, but I wish I had a memory of a direct conversation.
Once I identified the under-layer of this particular life moment, it was if a pop happened deep inside my body and psyche, the energy was released and I felt peaceful, calm and settled. Scientists have studied why animals in the wild do not show signs of PTSD, even though they confront life threatening circumstances frequently. What they discovered was, if an animal survived an attack on its life, it would shake uncontrollably once it was safe again. Releasing the energy and adrenaline after that event, rather than trying to control or stuff its experience.
As humans, we unfortunately often shut down that reaction, in a variety of ways. And thus it gets trapped in our psyche, and always in our body which holds the rawest renditions of our life experiences.
I share this experience, because it demonstrates how important it is to give ourselves the opportunity to process and explore our significant life experiences. If I had not sat down to do some art therapy around the experience of ending treatment, I would have not recognized this unmet need. To me, this speaks volumes as I have actually spent a lot of time thinking about this moment and it’s impact on the body, mind, spirit, and self. It was one of the critical moments in my life that propelled me into building what has become Creative Transformations.
We all carry legacy in our lives, it shows up in a variety of shapes and forms. Even if your cancer story was not a part of the family legacy, it is important to listen to the cues our body, mind, spirit, or self send about when we are re-experiencing a personal moment tied into the legacy of our ancestors. They are interwoven into the tapestry of our lives, and when we take time to unpack them- we learn so much about ourselves and our extended family. As a therapist, I have witnessed time and time again how healing this awareness is to our sense of self.
– 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.