Healing Self 0 comments on Compilation of our greatest hits… a blog review

Compilation of our greatest hits… a blog review

Hey all! It happens to be a school vacation week, and I am taking some time with the family. I have been looking through the blogs that I have written thus far, and I thought this week I might highlight a few of my favorite ones.

As I look forward to planning an editorial calendar, I would love to hear from you about questions or concerns you would like to see me address.  You may comment below or send me an email.  Let’s connect!

Healing the Body: Milestones. Anniversaries, & how the body reminds us

Healing the Mind: For when you feel left behind

Healing the Spirit: The dance of the infinite and finite following a cancer diagnosis

Healing the Self: Rebuilding self-confidence following a cancer diagnosis

Healing via Creativity/Survivorship: Digging out from the aftermath of cancer

Until next week,

Stephanie

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former 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, she works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, workshops, and this weekly blog. Check out the individual packages. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healing Body, Survivorship 0 comments on The potentially bad news that turned out good so don’t worry about, ok? Next!

The potentially bad news that turned out good so don’t worry about, ok? Next!

Raise your hand, or even better, comment below, if you have experienced the following scenario…

You are at a follow up visit to hear results following a procedure- scans, biopsy, or surgical interventions, like having your boobs taken off to remove cancer or reduce the likelihood of cancer growing.

You are likely a little anxious about what will be revealed- even if you are a chronic optimist.

The doc delivers the news with a caveat… everything’s fine BUT…

For me, it was hearing that the neoadjuvant chemo had destroyed the cancer we knew about, and that Stage 0 DCIS was found in the non-cancer boob that was removed due to my mutant BRCA2 gene. This info was quickly followed by reassurance that I should not worry about it because what was done (ie mastectomy) would have been the recommended intervention.

This blog is not meant to be a criticism of doctors, PAs, and NPs who deliver the news. I trust that they are all well intentioned when they try to minimize our distress by delivering the good news that the potentially bad news has been taken care of. I get it and still the impact is the same. The person left sitting with the news is shell shocked, trying to process what feels like yet another betrayal by our body in addition to a reminder of how closely we walk to the edge of illness and our mortality.

There are some very tiny tweaks that I feel providers could adopt that would make us transition along with them to the “so don’t worry about it” frame of mind. But since I am not sure that providers are going to read them, you might copy down this list somewhere to help you advocate for yourself if you are experiencing a whiplash moment at a medical appointment.

  • delivering the news without the medical jargon initially- because those labels scare the pants off of us
  • asking how we feel about the fact that something unexpected was detected (ie no minimizing even if it is to try to keep us feeling more optimistic)
  • reflective listening to make sure that we understand what was said- because again it is hard to fully listen when we are taken by surprise, again.
  • having a medical staff member, like a nurse, do a follow up call to check in and make sure that there were no further questions (and since this may be you, calling them, I just want you to know that asking for what you need is so important- because when left to our own devices the stories we tell ourselves can become very dark)

Sending out some good juju for anyone who can relate to this blog.  You are not alone.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former 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, she works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, workshops, and this weekly blog. Check out the individual packages. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healing Self, Healing Spirit, Intimacy and Parenting 0 comments on When the waves of grief come…

When the waves of grief come…

As we have identified, no one goes through cancer unscathed. Recently, this has been coming up in a number of different ways- personally, it is seeing the lingering impact on my youngest son who was 5 and starting kindergarten when I was diagnosed. Knowing that I couldn’t fully protect him from that experience- and the lingering stress that follows, is something that weighs heavy on my heart.

Another way that it has come up is related to survivor guilt.  From my perspective, survivor guilt manifests from the experience of watching people we love go through cancer treatment and/or having them die from cancer.

Just like someone who walks away from a plane crash, we wonder why were spared and they were not… we feel helpless to soothe their loved ones… we feel badly when we are not fully grateful… the list goes on and on.

Yet, we are tribal people and we need the connection to others who have been there… being connected is a crucial component of healing AND it also asks us to confront how unjust life can be, how little control we have over outcomes, the mortality of others and ourselves…  As Robert Neimeyer wrote:

We are wired for attachment in a world of impermanence. How we negotiate that tension shapes who we become.

To be fully alive and present, we need to find ways to allow ourselves to process the many losses that come along with life. Death is certainly a loss and a grief process that we see as valid, although we frequently underestimate the time needed to fully grieve. All endings, not just death, have components of grief and loss, in part because when something comes to an end, we reflect upon the experience and the thoughts, feelings and expectations we had about it.

Grieving when you are also experiencing survivor guilt becomes more complex, because we share the common experience of having cancer and thus inevitably we think about ourselves.  The tension that comes from trying to do both can cause us to shut down, withdraw, become overwhelmed, judge ourselves… and this tension can easily go unnoticed and underground.

The taboos about talking about death and dying, the difficulty of honoring our own process and needs when we know someone “has it worse”, our tendency to compare and to ruminate about things that are out of our control…

All of these things add to the shroud of silence that often accompanies the waves of grief. For the waves of grief inevitably come with the gift of life.  As the quote from Havelock Ellis in the meme above reminds us:

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on

In order to walk through our survival guilt, our grief, we need to find small ways that we can practice letting go and holding on. When we do this, we find the ability to release the tension that keeps us stuck and unable to be fully embody what we have been through. When we do this, we begin to find the ability to be alive and connected to ourselves and to those we love, learning to surf the waves despite the challenges we and our loved ones face.

Tell me, what is a small gesture or act you can do right now to practice letting go and holding on? I’d love to hear it, shoot me an email, send me a PM or write below. XO

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former 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, she works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, workshops, and this weekly blog. Check out the individual packages. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healing Self, Survivorship 0 comments on The art of self advocacy

The art of self advocacy

This topic feels like a natural follow up to last week’s blog, Cancer is not just a medical problem. But before we get into the subject, I just want to take a moment to share a personal celebration with you…

This is my 100th blog!!!!

I started Creative Transformations 2 years and 6 days ago (more or less!), and when I began I knew that in addition services I offer, I wanted to write a weekly blog that would explore the emotional healing process of cancer survivors. It feels really good to know that thus far I have met my goal, and that hopefully these blogs have had a positive impact on you, my readers. Thanks for being there and for celebrating this moment with me.

Self advocacy is an important part of cancer treatment because cancer treatment is an ever evolving process, and it involves the expertise and input of multiple providers. Research and statistics about treatment approaches and efficacy are important, yet ultimately we are all unique and thus we are the experts on our body, mind, spirit and sense of self. While we may feel trepidations about it, we hold the role of expert at the table, and hopefully your treatment team embraces that.

Yet being an advocate for yourself is often easier said than done.  Here are some common barriers that complicate this process:

  • the stress level that comes with having a cancer diagnosis– the shock, dismay, anger, fear that we feel impacts our ability to process information and communicate our thoughts, feelings, and concerns
  • the whack cancer takes to our sense of self confidence– in part due to the fact that it directly challenges any notion of control that we might have felt we had prior to those awful words
  • the willingness of our treatment team to view us as an expert of our own experience– research shows that having trust in your providers is important to the treatment experience and outcome, so if providers prefer a top-down, hierarchical approach, they may be unwilling to see you as an expert on you. Sometimes we can change our team, sometimes we can’t.  This post is designed to offer guidance either way.
  • our personality traits and communication styles– for someone who is more passive, feeling able to speak up and be direct about your needs, especially when you feel vulnerable, is a true challenge when you add cancer to the mix. For those who are more aggressive, power struggles often emerge and impede clear communication and processing of the information being shared.  Even those of us who are comfortable being assertive can struggle.  The psychological reasons why will be explored below.

Beyond the above mentioned barriers, lie the underlying psychological components that often come up when someone is thinking about advocating for themselves:

  • self doubt– or trusting your instinct in the face of an authority figure
  • self worth– or believing in your right to ask questions, challenge plans, asking for second opinions, etc.
  • vulnerability– or having to tolerate uncertainty while asserting a concern, need, opinion, etc.
  • feeling overwhelmed– this is an overarching feeling coming from many angles, but one particular cause of concern that is directly related to advocacy is the necessity of being able to process and understand the information related to the disease and treatment, while also needing to make major life decisions that are incredibly time sensitive
  • fear of offending, angering or risking the relationship with your provider, someone who is essential to your survival and wellbeing– this is especially challenging if you do not have a good support system and/or there is limited choices for providers in your area
  • guilt or shame about having cancer in the first place, especially if we feel like our own choices/actions were “responsible” for creating the illness

And so forth.  Just like a reality show, it always looks easier from the viewpoint of the spectator, and thus can further impact our ability to be our own advocates.

This doesn’t mean that it is hopeless at all, it just highlights the importance of seeking support ASAP. Local cancer community centers, the social worker connected to your treatment team, therapists and coaches who specialize in cancer, are all options to consider for getting support.

As a cancer coach, the impact of my knowledge and personal experience always helps to ground my clients, and together we craft a plan to build the muscle of self advocacy.  I know it can get old to think of cancer as a transformative experience, but I do see it time and time again. While we may not have asked for it, celebrating how we become stronger in the face of adversity is important.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former 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, she works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, workshops, and this weekly blog. Check out the individual packages. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healing Mind 0 comments on Cancer is not just a medical problem

Cancer is not just a medical problem

I am feeling a rant coming on, I am going to step up onto my soapbox for this post because I feel so strongly about this topic.  And here is why.

Each time you visit the oncologist, you have to complete a survey about your symptoms, in order to help track and alert your team if something is wrong.  On that survey, typically there is one question that asks if you are feeling anxious or depressed. If you rate yourself high enough, someone will likely ask you about it and hopefully make a referral to see the social worker connected to the practice. IF you rate yourself high enough.

I want every cancer survivor to be treated AS IF they scored high on the distress scale because cancer is not just a medical problem.  I have yet to find anyone diagnosed with cancer who simply experienced it as a medical concern that had no other impact on their psyche, their lives, or their support system.

Yet, with all of the information that we are given, with all of the other providers we are required to see to treat the cancer, having a meeting with a mental health expert is not a standard part of a person’s care team. It kind of reminds me of how in the US we have to have separate health insurance to cover care for our teeth… as if our teeth were completely separate from our body.  Our emotional wellness is just as important in cancer treatment.

And what is the lasting effect of this shroud of silence? It makes it much harder to recognize the deep emotional impact a life threatening illness has on a person.  Especially when we are being told to be strong and positive by almost every person we know.  Understandably, these messages are meant to be encouraging, but ultimately these messages have an unintended consequence, a silencing effect that can cause us to keep the hard stuff to ourselves.

In my opinion, it is a form of neglect to not think more holistically about how we are being impacted.  In the many conversations that I have had with cancer survivors, too often I hear people being perplexed, confused, or even ashamed of how deeply affected they are by the cancer experience.  In the presentations and workshops that I give, I regularly hear how grateful and validating it is to hear about the emotional side of the disease.

We need to do better.  We need to stop stigmatizing mental health concerns by normalizing them. We need to stop contributing to the divide by not incorporating a mental health expert as an integral part of the treatment team for every single cancer patient. We need to have the hard conversations. We need to leave space for people to feel safe enough to share their vulnerable side, their fears.

We need to return silence to its beneficial role, one that allows us to take a moment to reflect upon how we are doing prior to responding to someone we trust will listen.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former 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, she works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, workshops, and this weekly blog. Check out the individual packages. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

Healing Body 0 comments on Echoing the heart through meditation

Echoing the heart through meditation

This week I had an echocardiogram. It had been a few years since the last one, which had happened in my final month of chemo. My onc and I decided that perhaps it was time to take a little look and see how it was faring post chemo and radiation.

Unlike the other two times, this time I got to watch the procedure. The equipment was shiny new and the tech was really friendly, answering my questions about what I was seeing. Watching the valves open and close, seeing the chambers, and one section that almost looked like lips sending a kiss as it opened and closed.

As I watched, a sudden swell of love and gratitude for this amazing organ came over me. My eyes teared and I thought about how much my heart had been through- not only the cancer treatment but the ups and downs of life. And yet here it is, laboring on, day in and day out, doing it’s best to keep me alive.

I have written about the power of cellular meditation, which you can check out by clicking on the link. But as I lay there, I decided to meditate with and for my heart. Through this device I could sense my heart in a new way. It was the most relaxing screening procedures I have ever had, which was a lovely change of pace.

This experience reminded me of Metta Meditation, or Loving Kindness meditation.  At the heart of this type of meditation is kindness, benevolence and goodwill.  Thus practicing this type of meditation has been shown to boost empathy and compassion towards self and others. Who couldn’t use a little more of that?

If you are curious about this style of meditation, here are the basic instructions for trying it, thanks to the Live and Dare website.

One sits down in a meditation position, with closed eyes, and generates in his mind and heart feelings of kindness and benevolence. Start by developing loving-kindness towards yourself, then progressively towards others and all beings. Usually this progression is advised:

  1. oneself
  2. a good friend
  3. a “neutral” person
  4. a difficult person
  5. all four of the above equally
  6. and then gradually the entire universe

I realize that living from the heart is not always easy, especially when life has not been kind to us. Yet when we take steps to deeply care for ourselves, living from the heart is a powerful place to be.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former 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, she works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, workshops, and this weekly blog. Check out the individual packages. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.