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.