Healing Body, Intimacy and Parenting 0 comments on Censoring our scars = Censoring our pain

Censoring our scars = Censoring our pain

Yesterday I had an amazing conversation with Sondra, one of the masterminds behind Bullshit Breast Cancer. Sondra and Mia started Bullshit Breast Cancer to offer a safe place for breast cancer survivors, women and men alike, to share their stories and support one another, offering tips, suggestions and resources.

We talked about so many things, one of them being the emotional harm that comes with being censored by social media, by being locked out of your account, when images of chests post surgery are shared. Shut down, locked out, without any inquiry to clarify your reason for the post, no opportunity to explain, educate, or stick up for yourself.

An invisible, unseen hand that not only represses an expression of vulnerability, but likely leaves you with the indirect message that what you did was shameful.

Speaking for myself, when I see someone’s post about their mastectomy, their reconstruction or their decision to go flat (ie no reconstruction), I see someone who is willing to be brave, who is trying to make sense of what has happened to them, who is trying to express that breast cancer is not an awesome opportunity to get a “boob job” for free. I see someone who is seeking to connect with others, to share personally what they have been through, to show a different angle on beauty and strength. I see someone just like me, and it gives me comfort, hope, inspiration, and a sense that I am altered, yet I am worthy of love and affection.

I understand that if you are not a part of the breast cancer community, you might not understand the power of these images. However, I think we need to look very carefully at taking responsibility for our discomfort, rather than having a knee jerk reaction to censor what we don’t understand.

Censoring does not just apply to social media or large organizations- it happens in our most intimate relationships. The ways in which we hide ourselves because we see someone’s discomfort, fear or rejection of who we are or what we have been through. Or we worry that we will be rejected, so we preemptively do it to ourselves, for protection and preservation of the relationship.

Many cancer survivors have felt this, of someone turning away, disconnecting, or censoring who they are (or what they are willing listen to). Often this is driven by that person’s own fears, own uncertainty, own incapacitation that they don’t know what to do. However, if a relationship is truly going to stand the test of time- the test of adversity- the test of cancer, censorship can’t go on. It will eat away and destroy the fabric of the relationship.

Rather than getting caught up in our own personal whirlpool of uncertainty, of complication… what if you did one brave act- the act of starting the conversation. You don’t need to know all of the answers, you don’t need to solve the problem. What helps is the willingness to notice that something has changed and be willing to listen.

Overcoming censorship in our intimate relationships, the sort that keeps us hiding who we are and how we feel, is vital if we want to have deep intimacy with our loved ones. Just as spreading education, awareness and advocacy will hopefully impact the larger scale censorship that needlessly hurts a community that is trying to heal.

-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, the self assessment tool, and virtual workshops.  Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healing Body 0 comments on Abrupt moments of awareness

Abrupt moments of awareness

Do you remember a moment in which you became acutely aware of how detached you had become from yourself?

A moment when something triggered your awareness that in order to survive treatment you had pulled away from being fully present in your body?

A moment when perhaps you had realized that the feelings of betrayal and fear of cancer had impacted your connection to your body, yourself?

For me, it was the touch of my physical therapist that reminded me my body still needed my love, support and attention. My breasts still existed in their altered form. They were still a part of me, even if it had been removed.

I had been fighting against really being able to look at myself in the mirror AND I had been having all the feels about how deconditioned my body had become, the body that had been so strong prior to cancer. Yet when I would notice my feelings, I would feel so conflicted knowing that I was so lucky to have been able to end treatment in the first place.

Yep, that first year post treatment was a constant up and down, back and forth, round and round in my head of so many thoughts and feelings.

They only began to quiet when I started the process of painting and drawing out my diagnosis and treatment experiences. Each time I sat down and leaned into what had happened, I was able to discharge the experience a little bit more from my psyche, leaving room for deeper awareness and letting go.

Allowing these experiences to no longer haunt me.

-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, the self assessment tool, and virtual workshops.  Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healing Self 0 comments on Let’s make space for the elephants

Let’s make space for the elephants

Elephants are such majestic creatures, and I suppose it is their size that made them a great metaphor for the discomfort that comes from ignoring the elephant in the room.

I’m tired of the elephants being ignored- it does not serve you or me, in fact, I spend a lot of my worklife talking about the deep pain that one has when the elephant is being ignored, unacknowledged, dismissed, devalued, diminished…

We all deserve to be included, especially the elephants- because often they represent our most vulnerable selves. Since cancer reminds you that no one has a guarantee as to how long you will be on this planet, you no longer tolerate neglecting yourself or avoiding hard conversations- because one day there won’t be any more opportunity to have them.

Yet making space to have them is a whole other ball of wax, because while you might be motivated to unleash those elephants- your loved ones might not be. Pushing the boundaries of taboo subjects is always challenging- and when you throw in the profound undercurrent of uncertainty that cancer brings- it can drive you or someone you love to avoid, repress, dismiss, etc. even more avidly than before.

My advice is to begin with an invitation- an invitation to acknowledge the elephant. It is normal to be anxious about breaking down and breaking through, and it may not go well. But if the energy is presented as an invitation, that may be gentle enough to calm the defense mechanisms to find a place to begin.

Pre-work is often vital to making a successful invitation, unpacking your own feelings about this elephant and how it has impacted your relationship. This is a great time to break out the art journal and reflective writing AND a great time to get support from a trusted friend, therapist, group. Not only is this excellent self care, self validation, and building self understanding, but it will help prevent you from roaring into the conversation like a lion, due to your own vulnerable feelings.

Here are some of the most prominent elephants out there, related to cancer:

  • facing the fear of dying, of being alone
  • changes in sexual functioning and intimacy
  • body image and self worth
  • feeling abandoned by our treatment team
  • feeling hurt by how our support system reacted to our cancer diagnosis, treatment, etc
  • fear of the future, fear of cancer recurrence and growth
  • separation and isolation- feeling left out of the “sea of normalcy”- especially when you are Stage 4

And so forth.

To invite the elephants in, you need to grow your capacity to be with your vulnerability, your ability to stand with life as it is, discerning when you need walls of protection AND when you don’t. Walls are important to have with people who are toxic. Yet they also serve to cut us off from being deeply connected to sources of love, compassion, connection. Developing the ability to discern who it is safe to let in, begins with developing a deep connection to yourself- so that you can trust your instinct about people you meet.

I leave you this week with a wonderful Ted Talk by Brené Brown on vulnerability.

-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, the self assessment tool, and virtual workshops.  Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

Healing Mind 0 comments on Connection often points us in the right Direction

Connection often points us in the right Direction

As a cancer survivor, there are so many ways in which you face losing control. As you heal emotionally, it is important to find ways to influence how you are doing, where you are going, who you have become, so that you can be more resilient to the curve balls you face in life.

In studying psychology, I learned that there were two general ways that people process- internally within their own minds or externally by mulling it over with others. Most of us are a combination of the two, but often we tend to prefer one over the other.

It’s important to keep in mind when it is wise to switch your tactic and look for a different type of connection.

For example, an internal processor might be very capable at self analysis, until you encounter a recurring thought, emotion, relationship hurdle or struggle which has never been fully dealt with. If the internal processor persists in trying to manage that situation by oneself, the end result is more likely to be stuck in the proverbial rabbit hole, ruminating and getting stuck rather than breaking through.

On the other hand, an external processor might be very comfortable with sharing their thoughts and feelings with others to arrive at conclusions or solutions. However, if an external processor wants to rehash recurring issues and problems, it’s important to watch for whether or not the conversation is repetitive- demonstrating the same rumination and stuckness that an internal processor faces in their minds. An external processor might get temporary relief from rehashing, yet ultimately be just as stuck in the rabbit hole.

The good thing is that independent of where you fall in the spectrum, the change in tactic is the same- connection. An internal processor needs to connect more with others when they get stuck, whereas an external processor needs to connect more with themselves to move forward- becoming quiet enough to observe the less vocal parts of their inner world.

-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, the self assessment tool, and virtual workshops.  Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

Healing Self, Healing Spirit 0 comments on Reminder: put your nipples on

Reminder: put your nipples on

In just a few short days, my family and I will be flying to Spain, to see my husband’s family. As you might imagine, we are in the midst of the final push for getting ready- which means lots and lots of to-do lists. This time, I have an additional to do that was never there before- to put on my nipples.

As my breast cancer peeps can relate, this item is a crucial one towards feeling more like yourself again. There are many options- but I chose silicone, paste on nipples, after meeting Michelle- the owner and creator of Pink Perfect. She offers “ready to wear” nipples in every tone, shade, shape and size as well as custom made nipples for women who have a single mastectomy and wish to match their native nipple. I highly recommend her products!

It has been 11 years since we have gone back to Spain as a family, the last time we were there my oldest child was 5 months old. My mother-in-law was so proud, she fell in love with him and was so impressed by how rolly polly he was. She would exclaim to everyone one we came across that she knew (which feels like half the population of the small city that she lives in)- “SOLO TETA”. Solo teta translates to “just breast” in English- and in this case breast milk. She wanted everyone to understand that my body was fully responsible for creating such an exquisite child- and her praise made me laugh and smile at the same time.

It has been 20 years since my husband and I married in Spain, we were only 24 at the time. In those twenty years we have had a lifetime of experiences, we were caregiver to my mom before she died from metastatic breast cancer, both of our fathers have died, we created two children, we both obtained advanced degrees, I had cancer… it was never our intention to go so long between visits to Spain, but the curveballs kept coming and we had to keep recalibrating. Although we might have preferred a less tumultuous time line, we have nevertheless become more resilient for sticking through it together.

I have a feeling that this time, my mother-in-law will still be proud, and perhaps she will exclaim- No Tetas (no breasts) to everyone we pass, since that has changed since our last visit. If she does, I will celebrate right alongside her, with my paste on nipples and silicone boobs- because I am very lucky to have this chance to return again to a land I love. Something that could have been robbed from me had the cancer treatment not kicked cancer’s ass.

As I soak in this experience of a lifetime, the chance to be present with my husband and children as they encounter a major piece of their heritage, the chance to hug and kiss all of the wonderful family and friends we have there, the chance to return to my second home… I will be absorbing it with the deep appreciation for life that cancer has brought me, knowing that life can change on a dime.

This practice- of drinking in the moment with my body, mind, spirit, and self is something that we can all cultivate as an homage to the value of being alive. I wonder- what are your special moments and places (big or small) that bring you fully alive? I would love it if you would share them with me, either in the comments below or by email.

-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, the self assessment tool, and virtual workshops.  Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healing Body, Healing Self 0 comments on How to tell if your emotional healing is happening

How to tell if your emotional healing is happening

This week we passed an important milestone in our family, my oldest graduated from elementary school. It was a day filled with excitement and reflection- setting an intentional time marker that an ordinary day might not have. This day happened to align with my nieces birthday, the anniversary of our buying a home, and the anniversary of my active treatment for cancer ending.

What took me by surprise is that I completely forgot that this was the anniversary of treatment ending, even though I am an anniversary kind of gal. Nor did my body remind me, as it so often does on these occasions- which I will talk about below. I was blissfully immersed in the moment, in the experience, not in the past and not in the future.

If you are a cancer survivor, you can appreciate the significance of being able to be fully present. Regardless of your persona before cancer (BC), being fully present in the moment after a cancer diagnosis is no easy feat.

When I realized that I had forgotten, I took a moment to sip that experience in. I took it as a moment to celebrate that I am not deceiving myself that I have made progress towards emotionally healing. Being able to let go rather than avoid or suppress…

This is what I want for every cancer survivor I meet- the opportunity to be fully present, even if it is just a brief moment, independent of where you are with regards to cancer treatment or status.

In order for that to happen, you will need a way of being able to sit with yourself and your reality. To feel through it… and then release… even if you can only do it for a brief period of time. With practice, you can slowly build your muscles of present moment living.

Your body is the timekeeper of these milestones and anniversaries.  Your body releases the energetic material of an important memory, almost like a reminder that you set ages ago and then forgot about.  One of the first cues to look for is a heaviness inside.  If you allow yourself time for introspection, the purpose of the release is often revealed to you- allowing for an Ah-Ha moment.

It can be very challenging to sit with this process of the energetic release.  You may worry that if you fully allow ourselves to feel the pain, it will never stop.  Yet the opposite is true, the more you try to push away the pain, the more you suffer.

You can strike a compromise by setting aside time to listen and experience the message, your body begins to trust you… rather than yelling the messages it can begin to whisper.

This trust builds because when you slow down enough to listen, you are opening the door to validation. Validating your experience is a crucial step in the healing process.

Every time I have been validated, internally or externally, the internal tension in my body dissipates, for the job my body was tasked to do has been completed.

When I realized that my body did not feel the need to energetically release prior to the anniversary of treatment ending, when I realized that my mind did not feel the need to remind me of milestone I was passing (year 3), I said THANK YOU to this marker- this litmus test- that yes, indeed, I have made progress towards the emotional healing I seek.

If you are ready to embark on that journey or if you have already started along it, having tools to assess where you are helps you build your own unique map of emotional and physical healing. By clicking here, you can sign up for the free assessment tool that I developed to help you do just that.

In solidarity!

-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, the self assessment tool, and virtual workshops.  Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.