Healing Mind, Healing Self, Survivorship 0 comments on How long will it take?

How long will it take?

Given my line of work, I often get the question- how long?  It is always in reference to some form of suffering.  How long will it take?  How long will it take until I feel better? How long until I no longer feel triggered all the time? How long will it take until I feel like myself again?  Will I ever feel like myself again?

My heart always goes out to the person who is asking it, because to me it is always an indication of the deep need that is there and an indication that the person is prepared to start the process, which is a very vulnerable time.  Understandably, reassurance is what we seek.  My answer is always the same… I don’t know how long it will take you, but I know that you will get through it by allowing yourself to do two things: lean in (ie experience the feelings) and let go (ie process them).

When my mom was diagnosed with metastatic cancer, I had been going to therapy to address issues from my childhood.  While that work was cut short by needing to move home, it began an important part of my healing.  After she died, I found a new therapist who helped me to hold myself together when I felt like I was being torn apart.  But it wasn’t until I began my master’s program in art therapy that I finally found the tools I needed to fully engage and release the grief that I felt.  I spent a good 6-9 months with a nightly practice of visual art journalling, in which I leaned into the feelings and let go of them by expressing them through shape, color and form.  And then I spent the remainder of my time studying and examining the nature of grief, attachment, and identity.

The death of my mom made me acutely aware of the many ways we experience loss throughout the lifespan, which often get overlooked as they are not related directly to death.  The loss of innocence, the loss of friendships, when we finish/end a life stage, the loss of intimate/romantic relationships, and so forth.  In between the death of my mother and graduate school, I worked for a domestic violence agency in their shelter, and I came to realize that it was often the persons inability to tolerate the grieving process of leaving their abusive partner that lead them to return to the relationship.  It wasn’t a sign of weakness that they could not tolerate grieving, it was a sign that we desperately need to learn how to grieve in order to heal.  This is what drove me towards needing to figure it out, both for myself and for those whom I wished to serve.

I realize that a lot of trust is involved in this process, trust that if you lean in and let go that it really will be more helpful rather than harmful.  We have a natural tendency to pull away from pain.  If this lack of trust is really inhibiting you- create an exit strategy if you find yourself getting in over your head.  Most people won’t actually find themselves in that space, but if you are worried, than it is important to take that into concern to heart and honor it by responding to it.

If you are skeptical, become a scientist.  Observe how you feel before, during, and after this process of leaning in and letting go.  No true hypothesis can be fully vetted until you have run the experiment for a good chunk of time, so set a daily goal for X amount of days and see what happens.  As those sassy memes like to remind us: “Wow, I really regret that workout today- said no one ever”.  The same is true for this process of emotional processing, because when we show up for ourselves, it is an act of self love.

– 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.

 

Healing Self, Healing via Creativity, Survivorship 0 comments on The identity dance

The identity dance

I was reflecting recently about the differing opinions/perspectives on life after cancer (or any life threatening condition) and the role it plays in re-configuring our sense of self, our identity.  Someone reflected about how some people seem to want to disown/disavow their experience of having cancer whereas others are perceived to be fully immersed in their identity as a cancer survivor. I am a believer in finding the balance, which I will discuss below, but here is some food for thought to start us off: while I can appreciate that some people may come across as fully immersed in the cancer survivor identity, would you question it if they were experiencing was adjusting to parenthood? starting college? or a new job?

It’s important to keep in mind that our major life experiences absolutely shape our sense of self, especially when we are in the process of integrating that experience into our personal schema.  So there is no shame in having the need to explore, discuss, and possibly display this aspect of ourselves.  But just like anything in life, it is important to recognize that remaining stuck or overly focused on one part of our life experience is not fully being present to the moment or one’s complete identity.  And it is at the core of the work I do, to help people find the tools they need to process what they have experienced, so that it does integrate itself- rather than fracture us.

The tricky part is, it’s not like we can sit down and systematically go through the process of grieving from the start until the end.  We can’t possibly plot out all of the exact steps- small or large- that we must take in order to “fix” our identity dilemma.  And when you are in a lot of physical and emotional pain to begin with, it is very challenging to trust that you will have enough stamina and patience to go through it.

Therefore, rather than focusing the “to do” list of grieving, we need to cultivate a practice of recognizing when we are physically and emotionally exhibiting signs that we need to set aside some time for reflection to experience and release what kernel or nugget of our grief is ready to be explored.  In the beginning, it is most useful to find consistent and predictable check in moments with yourself, because it will create increased trust with yourself that you are giving yourself the gift of time and attention- rather than creating tension because you are attempting to avoid or repress a need.

It is understandable that many of us are unsure of how to support ourselves through grieving, which is why we might vacillate between ruminating, avoiding or repressing it.  This is why I developed the protocol for using a visual journal, because it can serve as a way to contain and capture an experience as we are developing our ability to sit with and observe our pain.  When we capture it through color, shape, or form, we are releasing it from our physical self which creates an unburdening.  When we feel ready to practice adding reflection into what we capture, we begin to deepen our understanding of what we have been through, which eventually leads to it’s integration into our identity.

– 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.

 

Healing Mind, Intimacy and Parenting, Survivorship 0 comments on Stressful conversations

Stressful conversations

Being diagnosed with a life threatening illness certainly amps up the stress levels for ourselves and our loved ones. Even the most functional humans out there are going to experience a wide variety of physical and emotional responses to this major life event.  It can set up a cascade of reactions, and in the midst of it all are conversations that need to be had- with medical providers, insurance companies, immediate and extended family, friends, coworkers and colleagues, and the various community locales where we, and our family, live and work.  For myself, some of the earliest challenges were wondering what to say to my children in the midst of facing uncertain times.

When we are under a lot of pressure, it is easy to have miscommunication and misunderstanding.  We often forget that as humans our personal response to stress is likely to be very different from our immediate loved ones, and we can quickly make assumptions that aren’t accurate.  Not to mention that while we may have pledged our fidelity and loyalty to someone, very few of us have truly tested out the “in sickness and in health” promise, and since death anxiety is a core universal fear- it can trigger the fight, flight, or freeze response at a time where our resources to stay grounded are likely depleted.

It is not uncommon to see that those whom we thought might be our biggest allies seem to disappear; whereas, others whom you might not have thought would come forward do in a significant way.  This sets up an interesting dichotomy, on one hand there is a feeling of loss and on the other hand there is a swell of faith in the power of compassion.  At some point it will be important to be able to express feelings related to the abandonment, and some relationships might end; however, it is important to give it time and to try and re-direct thoughts of wanting to take this personally- as so often it is more about that person’s fear rather than about you personally.

Our stress can leak out into a variety of conversations- not just with our loved ones.  It can impact our friendships, colleagues or capacity to relate with the medical team.  It is important to think about finding a good fit with a medical team and support system- as trust is at the core of having a solid working relationship; however, the crisis of diagnosis and treatment often forces us to confront the parts of ourselves and our relationships that need work- the parts we often avoid until we can no longer do so.

Beth Eilers, LCSW, of Healthful Counseling and myself have designed a workshop to look at the different aspects of ourselves that influence how we manage stress (for example, personality type and attachment style) and offer tools to increase our ability to observe, understand and then share with our loved ones.  If you live locally, we are offering the workshop at the Cancer Community Center in South Portland, Maine, on May 4,2017.  Click here to register.

If you don’t live locally and are struggling with this topic, it may be time to reach out to your medical team to inquire about resources they may have available to you, or search for a psychotherapist who has experience working with significant medical issues.  The individual program offered through Creative Transformations offers tools to help to slow down your reactions and gain distance from them in order to re-engage the observing self.  Contact us if you would like to explore how.

– 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.

Healing Mind, Healing Spirit, Survivorship 0 comments on For when (not if) darkness comes

For when (not if) darkness comes

I write this post for those who are going through the dark night of the soul.  I write this post to affirm that this is a natural part of life.  I write this post to try and dispel the shame and guilt we feel for being in this place.  I write this post to offer encouragement that by allowing yourself to experience  it, with support and compassion, you will be transformed.  For the butterfly can only emerge after the caterpillar has been wrapped tightly in its cocoon.

I’ve been guilty of looking for guarantees in this life.  I’ve spent plenty of time under the belief that by being a “good girl” I was going to avoid the things that terrified me most.  I took great care of my health, and I still was diagnosed with cancer.  I’ve been a good friend, and still experienced loss.  I’ve worked hard to face adversity head on, and still experienced setbacks.  And with each of these experiences, I recognized that my beliefs and expectations were the components that caused me the most suffering, not the experience itself.  When I lifted off the shackles of beliefs and expectations, I became free to appreciate the efforts I have made in this life rather than feel like I had failed.  I became open to the spiritual and personal growth that adversity brings.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of hearing those words “You are cancer free” followed by “we found stage O DCIS in your other breast” (abnormal cells that likely would have caused another round of breast cancer).  My provider wanted to reassure me that having the bilateral mastectomy was definitely the right choice, and would have been the course of action had we discovered this beforehand.  I was in complete shock, in no way had I anticipated hearing those words.  When I was diagnosed, I had a little more preparation for hearing it… the dream I had, the lump I found, the biopsy.  I had been a “good girl”, I had taken all of those rounds of chemotherapy like a trooper, and still that sneaky bastard (ie cancer) had found a place to grow.  It still stirs feelings of anger when I think of it, and that is ok.  This anger is a natural response that validates me rather than dominates me.

I have walked with many on their journey into the dark night of the soul.  The questioning looks are always there, the anxiety of feeling their way through it.  We are wired for survival, so it can feel really counter-intuitive to say to yourself “I’m going in”.  All sorts of warning signals are going off, and the choir of the “shoulds” (ie our judgmental voices) are singing loudly.  And when the question the comes, is this the path I need to be on?, I always nod yes WITH the reminder of packing up the provisions for the journey.

So if you find yourself in a place in which you are facing the dark night of the soul, think about what you want to put in the knapsack.  My recommendation is to think about what is going to sustain you through it, there are going to be parts that you will traverse completely on your own but that doesn’t mean you can’t have company.  Creating a visual journal through art begins with sitting down each day and asking yourself “Where am I at right now” and “What do I need”.  Represent the responses you get to these questions through color, shape and form on the paper.  Let your instincts guide you, and after you have finished allow for some time to free write about what happened in this session.  This practice becomes a tool for self validation and witnessing, which are essential elements for healing.

– 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.

Healing Mind, Healing Self, Survivorship 0 comments on My 5 favorite tools for coping with cancer

My 5 favorite tools for coping with cancer

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I knew that I was going to be challenged to step up to the plate and face things that were going to test my endurance, my fears, my spirit, my hatred with being poked by a needle.  That last one was a biggie for me, because traditionally I would come close to passing out when my blood was being drawn.  I was tremendously grateful for  my port while I had it, but I am happy to report that 2 1/2 years since I started this whole process, I have finally conquered the fear of needles.  All the rumors are true- deep breathing actually works!

Anyways, the following are my 5 favorite tools for coping with cancer:

  1. Being honest with my feelings, not wearing that “everything’s fine” mask.  In fact, the more permission I gave myself to be accepting of all of my feelings, the better and more resilient I felt.  Feelings are messengers and when they are heard rather than suppressed or avoided they will deliver the message and then fade away.
  2. Staying curious with our experience.  Each time I began to worry about how I was doing, I would turn back into myself and observe.  This kept the assumptions and expectations at bay and allowed me to truly meet myself where I was “at”. I stayed as active as I could during treatment, and each time I faced the yoga mat or the dance floor I would ask myself- can I try? Most of the time, the answer was yes, and I often did more than I could have imagined.
  3. Harnessing your “Bad Ass”, for the good.  Let’s admit it- often being stubborn is counterproductive, but when it comes to challenging those fears and what ifs by facing it head on- it’s a godsend.
  4. Write, draw, sing, embody your feelings and experiences- for this is a transformative time.  let go of the B.S. that isn’t serving you anymore and drink in your pure, authentic, resilient self.
  5. Get connected to a cancer mentor– I found my breast cancer “big sister” through friends, and there are organizations who can match you up.  Or check out the mentorship offered through Cancer Grad, created by two amazing cancer survivors, Aniela and Nora.  Their mission is to redefine the language around confronting cancer from a battle to an education, which pays homage to how transformative the experience can be.  You can be a Cancer Student (ie undergoing active treatment), Graduates (ie survivorship), and their Cheerleaders (ie support system).  As a therapist, I have often wished to create a business to match my clients with mentors, so I am thrilled to have found Cancer Grad.

– 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.

Healing Mind, Healing Self 0 comments on For when you feel left behind

For when you feel left behind

Have you ever had that experience of hearing some exciting news from a friend or loved one, and on one hand you are thrilled and yet on the other hand you feel somehow left behind?  Or jealous? Overlooked? It can feel pretty rotten, because of course you wish to be supportive yet on the other hand you are hurting inside.

 

Having a life threatening condition often means you have to drop off of the “normal” path or trajectory that your peers are on, to address the problem.  For some, it is a significant detour, for others perhaps a less intense disruption.  Either way, the emotional impact is frequently the same.

 

Confronting an emotion that seen as negative can create a whirlpool of shame, guilt and self loathing, especially when you are bombarded with messages to stay positive or strong.  Certainly our inner chatter does have an impact on our outlook; however, the pressure to be in a constant state of positivity does more damage than good.

 

When we confront the shadow self, i.e. those aspects of ourselves that create vulnerability, it might trigger the fight/flight response.  It is a real challenge to sit with our vulnerable, tender parts and accept them for what they represent.  However, rejecting or avoiding those parts causes a greater backlash than finding a way to notice, observe, allow and accept them.

 

To practice sitting with our vulnerability, we need to tap into it.  Art can help us move in and out of a painful experience, which gives us the opportunity to break down an experience into manageable bits- especially if it causes a lot of emotional pain.

 

Try this exercise, and notice if it helps you.  Gather art supplies that feel comfortable for you to use and create a welcoming space to be in.  Play some music that feels soothing and engaging with your feelings.  If you are feeling nervous about it, perhaps set a timer for a brief period of time, to increase the sense of safety that you will be pulled back to the present moment. Get in touch with something inside of you (sensation, feeling, memory) that feels tender, and then use the art supplies to try and replicate it on the paper.  When you’ve decided you are ready to stop, spend a moment or two observing how you are feeling.

 

You may be surprised at what you find once you give yourself permission to experience these feelings without judgment.  You may feel relieved, you may feel more self compassion, you may uncover hidden dreams and the power to pursue them.  Who knows.  What I do know is that no one functions well when they are repressing emotions that just want the opportunity to be heard.

– 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.

Healing Self, Survivorship 0 comments on Why processing loss is VITAL for health

Why processing loss is VITAL for health

I remember I used to always challenge my math teachers about how the knowledge was actually going to be useful in realy life.  As I have matured (ie directed my sassiness to more enjoyable directions), I can see how evaluating the total impact of adding to or subtracting from our lives is important.  For example, these equations came to me recently:

Unprocessed grief, may be deconstructed to be:

Repression + Avoidance of grief= stuck energy which left untended squares itself and = increased anxiety/fear/sadness/anger/depression PLUS decreased confidence in capacity to face adversity

Whereas, processed grief may look/feel like:

Learning to surrender + accept= moving energy, which when multiplied with repetition = decreased anxiety/fear/sadness/anger/depression and ADDS tremendous growth of skills, spiritual depth, and capacity to feel joy

Keep in mind, processing loss is not a “one and done” kind of deal.  The grieving process is like an onion- it has many layers and to fully walk thought it we must cycle back time and time again with the need to process the next layer.  It can be startling how raw grief triggers can be, even when we have made a lot of progress, so have some compassion for yourself.

After losing my mom to cancer, I became highly sensitized to the various ways we experience grief throughout the lifespan.  It’s not just in death or the ending of a relationship.  For example, we grieve when we have a loss of innocence, when the veil that perhaps protects us from danger and adversity is removed.  Frequently we minimize the impact that this loss of innocence can have on our psyche.  Having a life threatening illness can cause us to confront many losses, some more obvious than others.  In fact, it isn’t until we experience feeling triggered by something that we recognize the losses that we have had.

It can feel overwhelming to begin the process of unpacking loss, in whatever form it takes.  May the tools of mindfulness, art, writing, and connecting with others be of service to you. It can be an excellent time to begin therapy or to start attending a support group, speaking with your loved ones and treatment team about resources is important.

“Loss is like a wind, it either carries you to a new destination or it traps you in an ocean of stagnation. You must quickly learn how to navigate the sail, for stagnation is death.” ― Val Uchendu

– 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.

 

Healing Body, Healing Self, Healing via Creativity, Survivorship 0 comments on Milestones, Anniversaries, & How the Body Reminds Us

Milestones, Anniversaries, & How the Body Reminds Us

In a few short weeks, I turn 43. My mom and her sister were both 43 when they were diagnosed with breast cancer. For 21 years, this was the milestone I thought of in my mind- if I make it beyond 43, then I won’t get cancer. Of course, I beat them to the punch by being diagnosed at 40. My aunt, 3 decades later, is living cancer free. My mom, 5 days after she turned 51, died from metastatic breast cancer. You may have already guessed what other milestones I have in my mind…

Because I have already been diagnosed with cancer, I think I assumed that this birthday would be less emotionally dense- my phrase for when my body is full of energetic sensations that come from deeply felt emotions.  But this week my body reminds me, through various cues, that the importance of this milestone has not been diminished by the fact the cancer question has been answered.  I feel a pain in my heart that has not been there for many years.

On one hand, I can feel myself wanting to distract from this pain by trying to analyze if I am being overly dramatic about it.  On the other hand, my creative spiritual side knows that this will be fuel for processing on the canvas of my breast casts, the many layers of the mother/daughter/sisterhood of cancer.  I now know what I wish to have for my birthday- the gift of time for art, to pay homage to this important milestone.

Our bodies often are the timekeepers of these milestones and anniversaries.  They are the ones that start releasing the energetic material of an important memory, almost like a reminder that we set ages ago and then forgot about.  Since many of these memories are stored within the context of grief, we often experience them as a heaviness inside.  If we allow ourselves time for introspection, the purpose of the release is often revealed to us- allowing for an Ah-Ha moment.

It can be very challenging to sit with this process of the energetic release.  Sometimes we may worry that if we fully allow ourselves to feel the pain, it will never stop.  Yet the opposite is true, the more we try to push away the pain, the more we suffer.  We can strike a compromise, when we set aside time to listen and experience the message, our body begins to trust us and with thoughtful planning we can craft a way to enter into and then exit an emotionally dense moment.  This will require listening to our personal cues of when we have reached our limits, and if that is something that you struggle with, then meeting with a therapist is highly recommended.

Process art can be an important ally when unpacking a milestone or anniversary.  It is effective because rather than ruminating over it in our minds, we are translating it onto paper.  This gives us the opportunity to literally get it off our chests, allowing us to have more breathing room as well as separation from it.  That distance can allow us to have a broader perspective of what we went through, to let go of what does not serve us, and to begin the process of making meaning.  This is the foundation of the individual sessions that I have designed as a tool for healing the body, mind, spirit, and self.

I share my story to honor the power of the collective- for the gift of vulnerability allows us to break the shackles of isolation.  “If you ask me what I came in this life to do, I will tell you.  I came to live out loud”- Emile Zola.

– 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.

Healing Self, Survivorship 0 comments on These are the stories that must be told, Part 2

These are the stories that must be told, Part 2

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.

Healing Body, Healing Mind, Healing Self, Healing Spirit, Healing via Creativity, Survivorship 0 comments on Digging out from the aftermath of cancer

Digging out from the aftermath of cancer

Most weeks, my writing process involves me going for a run, finding my inspiration and words for the week, and then recording them as promptly as I can.  This week, however, we had a blizzard and since I was the only non-sick member of my family, I was the one who did the majority of the digging out.  As I did so, I was fantasizing about owning a snow blower but knew that since we were still “digging out” of the financial hole cancer gave us, that was not likely going to happen.  And bam- I had my inspiration for the week.  The metaphor of “digging out” from the storm cancer (or any other life threatening circumstance) can create.

Let’s face it- facing a serious medical condition often involves a lot of drain, the draining of resources, time, health, stamina, and so forth.  Many of us are blessed to have our family and community rally behind us during the period of acute crisis and active treatment, which is a blessing and helps keep the individual and their immediate family’s heads above water.  When the crisis passes, hopefully you feel like things are eventually able to stabilize.  During this phase, it is typically the immediate family that is working to keep its own head above water.  Stabilization is important, but it’s not thriving.

For full recovery- financially, physically, emotionally, etc- we need to dig in in order to dig out.  Dig into the emotions that you needed to suppress in order to make it through the health crisis.  Dig out of the financial drain that the illness caused.  And just like this recent blizzard was for myself, there are many parts of that journey that must be done on your own, because each of our experiences is unique to us- my cancer experience was different from my husband’s or my children’s or my friend’s and family’s.

It seems to be that each time I think I have dug out from a particular phase of recovery, a little reminder pops up to say- there is more work to do!  Today’s reminder was a comment from my oldest son- asking about whether or not I might get cancer again.  To honor the honesty he needs from me, I can’t promise him that I won’t, but I do take the opportunity to tell him all of the ways I am working to care for my health.

So you might ask yourself- what do I need to dig into or out of to help myself heal today?  Find that question working it’s way into your body, mind, spirit or self.  Grab a journal, a pencil or some of your favorite art supplies and let them speak to you on the paper.  Give yourself the gift of time and space to breath some fresh air into those aspects of your healing that have felt buried.  And if you find yourself stumbling, reach out for some guidance or give one of my individual sessions a try.

– 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.