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.

Healing Body, Healing Self, Survivorship 0 comments on 5 steps towards radical acceptance of the body

5 steps towards radical acceptance of the body

Having a life threatening condition, such as cancer, brings our attention to the physical self in new ways.  As we process the news that something inside of us is causing harm, we will likely feel a range of emotions- there is the potential for feeling betrayed, for confusion, shame, anger, fear and so forth.  We might feel compelled to examine what we have done to “cause” this, we might question our faith and our sense of what was “supposed” to be happening.  Treatment may involve altering our body through surgery.  We may lose abilities because of the interventions, changes that may be temporary or permanent.

When I think about how my engagement with my physical self changed, I break it into a few general categories:

  • the initial survival phase of diagnosis, chemo, surgery and radiation, in which I did my best to care for my body, retain some normalcy of routine and exercise, while simultaneously remaining somewhat detached to make it through all of the poking, prodding, examining, altering that was happening so that I would not feel completely overwhelmed.
  • the post treatment phase of feeling the magnitude of what had just happened- the de-conditioning of my once strong body, the toxins within my system, the new aches and pains, the exhaustion coupled with the feeling of being somewhat lost as my treatment team that I connected with regularly bumped me into a quarterly check-up phase.  It was a reckoning phase, and a part of me feared I would never regain what I had lost.
  • the healing phase- since I am stubborn enough to not want to accept this new reality, I reached out and surrounded myself with a new team who would help me put myself back together bit by bit.  This team had my acupuncturist, chiropractor, and physical therapists.
  • the “feeling my cells come back to life” phase- this was filled with pure joy, it was such an exquisite phase of literally feeling like my cells were plumper, more energetic, more joyful, more oxygenated, toxin free.  This I hope to capture through art in the near future.  It was ecstatic.
  • the comprehension phase- that in some ways I am fundamentally changed, in other ways I am fundamentally more myself.  I am coming to accept that there will be some parts of my pre-cancer self that will never come back quite like they were.  They feel like a chapter that has come to an end.  In this, I feel sadness yet by using the following steps I feel the acceptance coming, bringing with it deep appreciation for the fact that I was so fortunate to have had those adventures.  With this healing, I also find myself putting to bed the parts that were not serving my highest good.  I feel a deepening in the relationship between my body and my spirit, that feels luscious and exciting in new ways.

So here are the 5 steps, may they serve you well as you seek to radically accept your body.

  1. Take an inventory of your relationship with your body in the various phases of your treatment journey, seeking professional guidance of a psychotherapist if this is triggering or tender.
  2. Look for the correlation with how your mood/feelings impact your experience of your body.
  3. Find a practice, like yoga, meditation, massage, art making, and so forth, that takes you away from the assumptions you have made about your body and allows you to experience it from the inside out.
  4. Set small, achievable goals that emphasize nourishing of the physical self. Think of them as mini-acts of self love, grounded in the present reality of your body and it’s abilities.
  5. Practice acceptance for what is true in this moment, allowing time to grieve what has been lost, to express, validate and eventually let go of those thoughts, feelings, judgments, experiences, etc. which may be holding you back from radically accepting yourself.

– 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, Healing Spirit 0 comments on Revising expectations- a tool for building resiliency

Revising expectations- a tool for building resiliency

Have you ever suffered from an attack of the “shoulds”? How did you feel afterwards- heavy? Depressed? Anxious? Tense? Pissed off? Sad? Alone?  Whatever it was, even if the “should” was momentarily motivating, I would imagine the longer term impact left you feeling worse rather than better.  Especially if your “shoulds” follow you around like your shadow, never leaving your side.

Somewhere along the line, many of us developed the notion that harsh self talk was going to keep us “on track”, but psychologically speaking it actually undermines our sense of confidence that we can trust ourselves to know what we need.  Compassionate self talk can get us to the same end point, with much less turmoil and a boost to our self esteem. When we practice speaking to ourselves from a place of compassion, we are validating our present circumstances and using tender or encouraging messages to move ourselves forward.

When the “shoulds” enter into the realm of our relationships, we know that we are in for trouble.  Our expectations of self and others can deeply interfere from having a more realistic and broader perspective of the situation at hand.  We can become defensive, hurt, or critical, undermining the capacity for intimacy and connection.  If we are honest with ourselves, often the “shoulds” are connected to past experiences or relationships, perhaps triggered by something in the hear and now that reminds us of the unfinished business.  To address those unmet needs from the past, we need to be clear about what our expectations were and how we can help ourselves in this moment to grieve and heal from the hurt.

Expectations are frequently the guest of honor in our suffering.  They can bind us to our suffering, and rather than growing spiritually it can harm our body, mind, spirit and self.  If we seek liberation, learning how to revise our expectations is the path we must wander down.  Examining our expectations may involve endings, an ending of a habit which may have served us in some particular way but no longer does, an ending of a relationship or experience.  However, when we chose to end something because we have revised our expectations, typically we are not left with unfinished business.  Especially if we end through a compassionate, yet clear, voice.

So today, think about an unrealistic expectation that you have held for yourself or someone else.  Where do you think it came from?  Taking time to journal through writing or art- ie, capturing your internal experience and making it external, may help you process it.  Now, think about how you might revise that expectation, even if it is just a tiny bit, and observe how you feel inside.  If you feel a little lighter, you are likely on the right path.

– 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 Reconstruction, a symbolic act of putting pieces back together again

Reconstruction, a symbolic act of putting pieces back together again

Many life threatening conditions require surgery to treat the condition, and for some there is the opportunity to reconstruct what has been lost.  I think for many of us, reconstruction is the symbolic act of trying to put back the pieces of ourselves, to feel whole again.  If it is our expectation that this act alone will bring us a sense of peace, we are likely going to be disappointed.  It is an important step, but truly pulling the pieces back together is a much longer process.

When you are planning for a single or double mastectomy, you simultaneously need to decide whether or not you want to have reconstruction.  For some, surgery is the first intervention for breast cancer treatment, which complicates the emotional process and gives less time for contemplation.  We’ve all heard the silver lining statements, like “At least you get to have perky boobs for the rest of your life”.  While these statements are often well-intentioned, they can minimize the loss that comes with losing a natural part of your body.

It’s a very personal decision, there are many types of reconstruction to chose from, each with their own risks and benefits.  I did chose reconstruction, and I remember laughing with a friend that I was not interested in shooting for a reconstructed nipple, because the last thing I wanted to face was the tissue becoming necrotic and falling off.  Frankly, I felt like the process of mastectomy and reconstruction was enough, and the last thing I would want it to add salt to the wound.

I have this term I like to use- emotionally dense- to capture that moment in which we are profoundly feeling and experiencing life.  The amount of time that passes during an emotionally dense experience is less important than the impact it has on our life perspective.  Reconstruction is one of those emotionally dense times, for many it happens at the end of treatment and the beginning of life post-treatment. which is nearly as terrifying as being told you had cancer in the first place.

If you are feeling at a loss following reconstruction or treatment ending, give yourself the gift of time to explore the pieces that need to be put back together.  We may wish to rush back to our lives, but if we do so without giving ourselves time to process we are going to be much more vulnerable to the unfinished business.

If we were sitting together in an art therapy session, I would be encouraging you to find a way to represent symbolically your reconstruction.  We would identify what the different pieces were that you are putting back together.  It may be layering work on canvas or paper or breaking and reconstructing work.  Find that voice inside which is whispering to you about the direction to take in a therapeutic art project.  Follow it’s lead, by taking a step you will be guided as to where you need to go next.  And if you need a little help, find a local art therapist or consider one of the individual sessions offered remotely or in person through Creative Transformations.

– 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 Spirit, Survivorship 0 comments on When the tidal wave comes, live from your heart

When the tidal wave comes, live from your heart

Driving in this morning, I was thinking about what to write.  What needs to be said.  This week has had me bare witness to so many feelings, so many stories of pain and regret, of joy, of confusion, of hurt and disenfranchisement, things to celebrate and reasons to grieve.  As a healer and therapist, I walk within these realms of feelings and life changing moments all the time.  It is a blessing to be invited to witness it, it is humbling to see the human spirit in the raw and in its glory.

We so regularly stuff our vulnerable self into the shadow, it takes a brave heart to hold the tension of vulnerability and the unknown.  The question often hangs in the air- is this what I need to do?  Must I lay down my defenses and feel the vulnerability?  With gentleness I say- yes.  Surprisingly, the most common reaction to that answer is relief, and my theory as to why is because if you are ready to ask it, then you are ready to do it.

Of course, when we are ready to feel our vulnerability, we are going to need to support it.  Likely you are going to need a healthy balance of authentic connection with others as well as time alone.  To determine what you need, live from your heart.  Every time I find myself in the midst of a tidal wave, I sink into that center of my body.  When I do, I find it swimming with energy, whispering to me what I need in that moment, allowing me to feel deeply what is around me without being sucked under.  It kind of feels like I am on an inner tube, bobbing along with the energy of the wave but safely keeping my head above water.

The heart chakra is said to be the wellspring of love, warmth and compassion.  It is the center of our generosity, our connection to others, our recognition that we are all interconnected.  It is not uncommon for pain and suffering to bring out a protective drive with our heart chakra- to fold in and withdraw, and if you are in an unsafe situation this is imperative.  To live from the heart, it may be necessary to make changes, to say goodbye to those who are not safe or respectful of boundaries.  Having a life threatening condition can clarify rather quickly what needs to be done.

If you are wanting to connect to or open up your heart chakra, taking an inventory of those needs is really important.  Once you are meeting those needs, there are yoga poses that can help open the heart and chest area.  When my heart was heavy with grief, I turned daily to my art journal, finding the color, shape and form that matched what I was feeling inside and then quietly free writing what I discovered.  There was this cd we played frequently when my mom was dying, Mark Kelso’s For God Alone, and thee was one particular track that I associated with the final breath she ever took.  I used to play it a lot when I was journaling, and one day I decided to look at the name of the song.  It was called, “Pain in my Heart”.  It couldn’t have been more accurate.

The tidal wave is overwhelming, I hope that these words help you today.

– 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, Healing Spirit, Survivorship 0 comments on The gift of humor

The gift of humor

Treatment had ended, I was blessed to be cancer-free, and I was slowly piecing together the battered and bruised aspects of my life.  One can only prepare so much for the ending of treatment, and for many it is a tumultuous time.  Letting go of actively addressing a life threatening condition requires us to confront a new unknown, the possibility of recurrence, and the slippery slope of interpreting whether or not one’s various body sensations (that used to feel like everyday aches and pains) are potential evidence that the cancer has come back.  Especially when you consider that the impact of aggressive treatment on one’s body seems to require about the same length of time to address through a variety of rehabilitation methods, if not longer.

It’s a delicate balance, this phase of physical, emotional, spiritual and identity healing.  It’s not linear, there is no true Step A, B, C.  If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I am a huge advocate for the practice of art and meditation to tap into our experience in a gentle way, breaking it down into manageable bites.  I am also a big fan of humor, because sometimes you just need a little levity to bring you out of a deeply emotional place and into your body again.

As I was figuring things out, I came upon Tig Notaro’s documentary, “Tig”, in which she bravely allowed herself to be filmed as she healed following the death of her mom, her battle with breast cancer and C.diff which essentially all happened at the same time.  It was so powerful to see her honest display of being incredibly vulnerable and shaken, while continuing on, speaking her truth and seeking to find herself again.  I laughed and cried throughout the entire show.  It’s a gem.

Humor was an essential tool during my treatment as well, it helped me to shake off the stress and giggle.  I have been keeping a running list of moments that could make you laugh or cry, to help with the bittersweet moments myself and my loved one’s faced.  Here’s a few of the golden ones:

  • My older son telling me, in the middle of a birthday party for his best friend, that I looked like Emperor Palpatine.  What a drag that it didn’t coincide with Halloween, as I am terribly un-creative when it comes to costumes.
  • My younger son, who was getting tired of seeing inquisitive looks from his classmates, introducing me by saying “This is my mom, she’s bald”
  • A good OMG moment was when a classmate asked my older son- “Is this your grandmother?”
  • After my first radiation treatment, allowing myself to just honor that treatment fatigue/rotten mood by laughing along with David Sedaris’ comedic outlook on life.
  • Finally, while it broke my heart to hear my older son ask my surgeon prior to the bilateral mastectomy- “Will she die?”, my youngest son followed it with “If she dies, I will kill you”.  Clearly, he was frightened too, but it was such an unexpected thing to say we couldn’t help but laughing at the same time.  And then we followed that will lots of reassurance that everything was going to be ok.

I imagine that if you are reading this, you may have your own stories of humor amidst the horror.  I would love to hear them, so feel free to share them in the comments.  And if you need a little humor TLC, I highly recommend Tig’s documentary.

In solidarity,

Stephanie

– 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.