Healing via Creativity, Survivorship 0 comments on Listen to the replay! Stephanie’s interview about emotionally healing from cancer

Listen to the replay! Stephanie’s interview about emotionally healing from cancer

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with Sharon and Becky, the founders of Breast Friends of Oregon. Each Friday they host a radio show on Voices of America.

This program was about the emotional impact of cancer and healing from it. Listen to our stories and the theory behind why art therapy can help anyone who has experienced cancer- including loved ones.

Here’s the link!

Please enjoy and share with those who could benefit!

– 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. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; 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 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 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, 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 Mind, Healing via Creativity, Survivorship 0 comments on Emotionally healing from chemotherapy

Emotionally healing from chemotherapy

Chemotherapy was the first intervention chosen to treat my breast cancer, given the size of the tumor and the fact that I had triple negative breast cancer (TNBC).  TNBC is the catch-all category of breast cancer that is not fed by estrogen, progesterone or the HER2 protein, Scientists are working hard to develop targeted therapies for this type of breast cancer; however, they believe that there is actually multiple forms of breast cancer that fall under it, which makes it more difficult to treat.  Therefore, chemotherapy is often recommended first so that the oncologists can see if it is effectively killing the cancer.

To be prepared for chemo, I had a port surgically placed to protect my veins from the 5 months of poison I was going to receive.  My port was a blessing, because it eased the anxiety and pain from all of the needle sticks, but it terrified me because one of the risks was it could carry an infection straight to my heart.  Having to make such enormous medical decisions in the chaos of the diagnosing phase is so representative of the challenges one faces after being told you have a life threatening condition. TNBC is a very aggressive form of cancer, and mine was locally advanced, so there was no luxury of time for decision making.

Once treatment had ended, I turned to art to process the experience.  I had all of these breast casts that we had done prior to surgery, on the anniversary of my first chemo treatment (which coincidentally was also my wedding anniversary), I sat down and processed the experience on the cast.  Instinctively, I knew what I wanted to do, and as I worked lines of poetry emerged that validated my emotional needs in that moment.  It came first in Spanish, and then I translated it for the cast. “Oh Red Devil (nickname for one of my chemos), I am here on my knees, please save my life, because I am not done yet, I have work and purpose still”.

It’s normal to fear that dipping into a painful memory will make it worse, but this rarely is the outcome.  In fact, the externalizing of our pain onto paper is tremendously relieving as we are carrying the memory within our body, mind, and spirit.  Kind of similar to making a shopping list, once you have it on paper you no longer have to worry that you will forget what you need.

Additionally, witnessing your experience in a tangible, visible form is self-validating, which is an important  component of healing.  Our feelings are messengers, they need an audience that is listening.  When we are compassionate and accepting of them, they feel satisfied that their work is done and they fade away.  Experiences that are complicated often bring out conflicting feelings and needs, and they may need repeated audiences with us in order to feel heard, especially if we have developed the habit of banishing or repressing them.

When we practice expressing our thoughts and feelings through process art, we can gain a deeper experience of listening to them as well as understanding them because they are no longer running around in circles in our head if we are placing them on paper. I have experienced and witnessed many “A-ha” moments from process art making, in fact they often come faster and more frequently through art because of the benefit of gaining distance visually from our internal struggle.

After I had completed my Chemo cast, I left it alone for several months.  An opportunity arose for me to tell my treatment story through art, and I pulled it out to spend some time reflecting about that experience.  The words poured easily out of me, I wrote a few poems.   Here is one below:

Chemo

The battle to kill the cancer

Feels like a death march of self

Wondering which cells are going to outlast the other

Each week we measure

Making sure the damage is not irreversible

Holding our breaths to see if

The medicine that kills

Is killing effectively.

My body grows more tired with each round

I cling on to whatever normalcy I can muster

My onc must have nerves of steel and deep conviction in the treatment

For to observe this battle, day in and day out

Must be brutal

Come , she says,

This will soon be over

And then you can rest.

– 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 via Creativity, Survivorship 0 comments on It is possible to miss hot flashes

It is possible to miss hot flashes

Last year I had my ovaries removed as a preventative measure against ovarian cancer, thanks to the BRCA2 mutation that I have.  My body that it had just recovered from the “chemo-pause” we had been through, and while I agreed with the treatment plan it was still sad to have my fertility come to an abrupt and definitive end.

One side effect from the surgery, of course, was the onslaught of hot flashes.  While they aren’t fun, I have enjoyed the testament to how youthful my body still was, in my mind the anthem would go like “Screw you, BRCA 2!”.  Within the past week, however, I have noticed that the frequency and intensity of those hot flashes are diminishing, and in it’s wake I am feeling a little sad.  It feels like the final chapter of a beloved novel, the end of an era.

Grieving a loss or change brings up surprises as you go through the process.  There are the more obvious triggers, such as the anniversary of an important life event, but more often we are caught off guard by the unanticipated triggers of our grieving process.  I believe it is those unanticipated triggers that can cause one to feel a sense of alarm.  We wonder at the intensity of our sensitivity to those triggers, which can really eat away at our confidence to manage our feelings and impact our relationship with our body, mind, spirit, and sense of self.

It can be profoundly draining, especially at the beginning.  If we (or others) are impatient with this process, we run the risk of doing more harm. Developing a practice of self compassion and grounding creates space for the triggers to express themselves.  If we are able to listen to the messages of the triggers, we will be more capable of releasing them and re-integrating them into our psyche.

When this is happening, it is a great time to grab your art journal and art supplies.  Give yourself, and your experience, the gift of time.  Imagine your journal is a safe container that is there simply to capture the essence of what is happening inside of you, so that you can return to it when you are ready.

– 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: www.creative-transformations.com, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Self, Healing via Creativity, Survivorship 0 comments on How to embrace our full emotional experience for transformation

How to embrace our full emotional experience for transformation

Most of us are familiar that the butterfly is a symbol of transformation.  The tricky part is, it is the symbol of manifested transformation, rather that the path that brings us there.  And while it’s nice to have the final goal in mind, it can be overwhelming to try and figure out how to transform ourselves, especially given that often our desires for transformation can be large in nature and often involve changing beliefs, habits, and so forth that are holding us back from full transformation.

In my mind, if you seek transformation, you might chose the caterpillar as your muse.  Caterpillars are born knowing that the one thing they need is nourishment to grow.  Bit by bit the take small bites that grow their bodies and energy stores, trusting that they will know what to do and what they need.  The energy is slow, deliberate and purposeful.  They are in tune with their process, they know when it is time to rest and time to do.  When the urge comes to construct the chrysalis in which they will cocoon themselves for the final stage of transformation, they find a safe and protected place to settle.  They stay inside their cocoon until they know they are ready to emerge.  Even once the transformation is complete, they take the time they need to open up again, prior to lift off.

Many of us who are diagnosed with a life threatening condition hope that the experience will help us transform in some way.  It is the silver lining of facing death.  Yet, the experiences we have gone through to heal ourselves are often traumatic, and it takes time to process what our body, mind, spirit and self has been through.

Recently I was working with a cancer survivor who is about to end treatment, and with her permission I will share some of what we discovered. In the session, she was identifying how some old patterns of thinking and feeling have begun to re-emerge as treatment comes to an end. Patterns that she had gotten a reprieve from while she was going through treatment.  Her artwork reflected an empty circle in the middle (representative of identity confusion she has experienced throughout her life), with a chaotic dance around her of the parts of herself that she values yet feels unsure of how to cohabitate.  The added layer of this dilemma is wondering which of these parts were authentic expressions of who she is verses parts she developed to please others.

As we were exploring how this was impacting her through art, her own wisdom spoke to her to give her guidance about her needs. There was a visible relief, because she truly wants to benefit from the transformative power of facing cancer and was dismayed to feel old patters re-emerge.

Nietzsche once said “When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago”.  As a psychotherapist, I have seen this be one of the driving forces that brings people into counseling.  For nothing is more disheartening than to find ourselves slipping into mindset or behaviors that we thought we had mastered.  Major life events can often trigger a resurgence of these old patterns, in part because when we are being challenged to confront a major life event we are pushed simultaneously to examine our unfinished business.

So find your inner caterpillar.  Trust any sparks of inspiration that help you connect to that concept.  Be gentle and patient with yourself, for you are in a tender and vulnerable point in your life.  There is no need to rush, finding small “bites” to tap into your experience and feel them will allow you to grow and ultimately transform.

At the end of the session I described above, I asked my client if she wanted to draw an angel card at random to see if it would offer a bit of insight or inspiration for moving forward.  She did, and we both got goosebumps when she discovered the word she drew was BIRTH, or in this case- rebirth.  I am with you in solidarity, whether it is through this blog or in person, I hope that you can feel it.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor. 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: www.creative-transformations.com, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing via Creativity, Survivorship 0 comments on Harnessing the therapeutic value of dreams

Harnessing the therapeutic value of dreams

Recently we have been contemplating some changes that will have an impact on our family, which of course involves analyzing the pros and cons. After a long discussion with my husband, my psyche served up a cancer recurrence dream. While it was unnerving, when I thought more critically about it, the overarching theme had to do with feeling vulnerable in the face of change.  This change we are contemplating involves a change in health insurance plans, and I feel anxious about it, knowing the coverage will not be as stellar as the plan I am currently blessed to have.  It is at times like this, when I feel so far away from that confident young person who went without health insurance coverage for large chunks of time.

Our dreams often offer us the opportunity to peak behind the veil- to allow us to see what we are needing to process at any given time.  If you want to improve your ability to retain the content, there are some simple ways to do that.  First, setting the intention of remembering a dream can assist you in increasing your consciousness during a dream.  Keeping a notebook and pen handy at your bedside gives you the opportunity to jot down what you can recall upon waking.  When you become more practiced at recognizing the lucid dream state, you can even begin to challenge yourself to have a break through- such as turning to face an aggressor in a dream.  The Dream Game, by Ann Faraday offers intriguing insight into that possibility.

Once you have the dream material recorded, you can begin to work with the imagery to deepen your perspective and tap into the internal landscape. Here are a few ideas of where to begin:

  • Grab your art journal and find a blank page.  Intuitively pick out a  jumping off point from the dream- perhaps it is an image, or a feeling, or a theme.  Chose a color that seems to express this point, and begin to draw what you are feeling.  Follow the flow of what you are doing, allow your creative self a chance to speak.  Move from one shape to the next, switching colors as you desire.  Draw for as long as you feel pulled to, taking rests as you wish.  When you have found a stopping point, take a step back and try to describe what you see, recording it on paper.
  • Identify the important components of the dream (characters, setting, feelings, experiences, etc.), and dialogue with them as if you are interviewing them for an article.  Write freely (without judgement) on paper the message that each component wants to share with you.
  • Recall your dream, and observe how you feel inside as you are re-living it.  How does it impact your body?  Where do you feel it most intensely and least?  What feelings are you having?  What are your thoughts?  Do you notice if it has an impact on your spirit?  Jot down what you are observing as you check in.

Independent of how you determine to work with your dream, the important part is that you take the time to experience it.  This gives you the opportunity to acknowledge and then release the experience, which cultivates the practice of attending to yourself.  If your desire is to restore your body, mind, spirit, and self following a life threatening condition, we need to take the opportunity to listen to the stories that must be told.

“A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read.” – The Talmud

Sample processing of the recurrence dream:

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– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor. 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: www.creative-transformations.com, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Body, Healing Self, Healing via Creativity 0 comments on A breast cancer story told through art

A breast cancer story told through art

A little less than two years ago, I was bald, 6 weeks into a 5 month chemo protocol, and facing the fact that I was going to have a bilateral mastectomy.  The mastectomy was a no-brainer for me personally, as it was the one thing my mom didn’t do to fight her breast cancer.  However, that didn’t make me immune from all the thoughts and feelings that come with losing my breasts.  As I sifted through all the information about reconstruction options as well as the possibility of not reconstructing, I knew that my emotional healing from this surgery was going to take time.  I was anxious about permanently losing a part of myself, literally.  So I decided to make breast casts with my husband prior to the surgery, because at least that would be one way to visually have a reminder, for myself, my husband and my children.

The day that we did the casts, I wrote this brief post on my recovery updates blog “First booby cast done! I am hoping to get a couple of different ones done and then perhaps create a mold? Who knows, I have some themes that I think would be interesting to explore artistically. Or perhaps I will just end up with a basement full of ta-tas. Disembodied ones at that! Suppose I could always use them in a haunted house or something…”

You see, it just takes one creative spark to initiate a healing process, because as treatment began to wind down, I realized that I could use the casts to process the experience artistically, which is what I began to do on the one year anniversary of my diagnosis.

A few months ago, as I was thinking about the bittersweet month of October, the idea of having an art show and talk came to me.  Since I am a big believer in the healing powers of connection, I felt that honoring the month in this way would be tremendously powerful and meaningful.  For many survivors, the commercialization of the issue is very troubling even when they are simultaneously thankful for the focus on breast cancer.  It also seemed like an opportunity to take the reflection to a deeper level, I have sifted through my notes, blog entries, and sat with the art I have created, to craft a presentation that would tie in the concepts of healing body, mind, spirit, and self through the lens of art.

If you have been noticing your own creative sparks- pay attention.  These sparks might be the first steps that you need to take to heal from a life threatening condition. Creativity is an expression of one’s deepest wisdom.

And getting back to that art show and talk idea I mentioned, I am excited to announce that on October 19th, at the Cancer Community Center in South Portland, Maine, I will be presenting “A breast cancer story through art”.  I hope that you will join me, register by clicking on this link https://cancercommunitycenter.org/event/breast-cancer-story-art/.  Namaste.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor. 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: www.creative-transformations.com.