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 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.

Healing Body, Healing Self, Survivorship 0 comments on Moving through the habits that keep us stuck

Moving through the habits that keep us stuck

When you have been through something traumatic, like having cancer, it’s common to develop habits around managing the leftovers from the experience. When you are fearing that cancer could return, it is really difficult to see constant reminders of what you have been through. Like surgery scars, missing hair, brain fog, and so forth.

Yet, if you want to really feel like you’ve moved beyond the experience of having cancer, you are going to have to address those habits at some point. While these habits might initially help you avoid discomfort, in the long run that avoidance amplifies the unprocessed pain that we have been through and can cause you to feel more anxious or depressed, rather than less.

One example that comes to mind is the story of a client who came in to experience art as therapy. She was a young breast cancer survivor with three children, someone who had been able to reach the coveted NED status- no evidence of disease. She felt appreciative of being cancer free, yet experienced a lot of anxiety about cancer coming back.

In our work together, she was able to identify how she avoided fully washing her chest, because she was afraid that she would find a lump again. We explored this through art, her experience of avoidance and fear, and I guided her to use the art to see how she might be able to support herself. Through this guidance, she was able to connect with the color yellow, as a warm, safe and supportive color.

The change was visible as she drew the yellow color around her image of anxiety and fear. Her body began to relax, her shoulders help less tension. I suggested that she bring in the energy of yellow with her the next time she showered, and she found it to be highly effective in breaking the avoidance behavior while also feeling less anxiety about washing.

It was a significant step towards reclaiming her connection towards feeling safe again in her body. The anxiety and fear that had been driving her to avoid was less dominant, allowing her to decrease the tension without having to control the outcome. Since cancer is a reminder that you don’t have total control, taking steps towards accepting that through actively supporting yourself can decrease the distress that comes as you face what is causing you fear.

Next week I am going to be releasing my free self assessment tool that I have developed to help you identify the ways in which cancer has impacted your body, mind, spirit, and self. It will come with the link to the virtual workshop: Back to Life Back to Reality: Decoding Cancer Survivorship. That is a space limited workshop, which will allow a lot of time for participants to share with one another in addition to learning how to move forward. So stay tuned!

-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 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.

Think of that powerful message of love from your heart- it is literally sending you kisses every moment of your life. Unconditional love…

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.