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.

 

Healing via Creativity 0 comments on D.I.A.G.N.O.S.I.S acrostic

D.I.A.G.N.O.S.I.S acrostic

Today marks my cancerversary- the anniversary of being told I had cancer.  A day that causes one to pause and reflect.  And when I do, acrostic poetry comes to mind.  I like  this format because it allows me to touch base with a deeply meaningful experience, to pay homage to the healing process, yet allows me to also stay present to what is happening today.  Unlike the day of my diagnosis, in which I was waiting in tense anticipation of hearing the pathology results from the biopsy, today I am blessed to be here.  My physical health continues to improve, I am inspired by the work that I am doing, and I will be in the presence of my loved ones.

Here’s what I can up with- I would love to read yours!

 

Delivering

Immediate

Anxiety

Generating

Nervous

Outlook

Serious

Internal

Stress

Healing Self, Healing Spirit, Healing via Creativity 0 comments on Coming home to yourself

Coming home to yourself

I found this beautiful quote from Thich Nhat Hanh- “To meditate is to come home to yourself”

In my opinion, this captures the essence of the spiritual path one takes when you are emotionally healing from a life threatening illness or injury.  When the dust has settled because the interventions have stopped or transitioned to managing a chronic condition, the identity confusion waltzes on in.  It takes time to sort out how the experience has changed oneself, our loved ones, and the outlook on life.  As I had mentioned in a previous blog post titled, Back to Life, Back to Reality?, when treatment ends the expectation is that things will return to normal.  Yet how can that be, because in confronting death we have faced a deep and transformative experience that will take time to truly express itself.

To integrate the transformation, finding a meditative practice is crucial.  Through this practice, we will be lead home- to our deepest center, our sense of self.  The energy of self is multifaceted.  The Oxford Dictionary defines self as “A person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action” and offers these synonyms:  identity, character, personality, psyche, soul, spirit, mind, (inner) being.  We express essence of self in our relationships, in our work, in our habits and practices.  With that in mind, it is important to have compassion for how complex it can be to integrate the ripple effect from a life threatening condition.

For some, this may be a traditional practice of meditation, for others it may be yoga, for me it is a blend of physical movement, body work, and art.  During treatment, I used art as a way to relax and capture glimpses of what was going on internally through abstract drawing.  As I grappled with the emotions related to having a mastectomy, the idea came to me to make papier-mache casts of my natural breasts.  My husband and I made several together, and that has become the canvas on which I have reflected and meditated about my experience.  It has been unexpectedly peaceful to be able to touch them and be with the former self.

Of course it is not necessary to have body casts to benefit from the practice of meditating through art.  When I was sifting through the impact treatment had on my professional identity, I knew that I wanted to develop a method of helping others develop a practice of using art and meditation to heal emotionally.   And thus the birth of this blog, the individual program and workshops.

So imagine that we are sitting together, contemplating your personal experience.  What do you do to come home to yourself or what have you wanted to try?  Maybe today it is simply contemplating Thich Nhat Hahn’s words- “To meditate is to come home to yourself”.  Share your thoughts below, because you never know they might be just the thing someone needs to hear.

– 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.

Healing Spirit, Healing via Creativity, Survivorship 0 comments on Running against the wind

Running against the wind

One of my few early childhood memories is of a very blustery day, in which the wind was whipping all around our house.  Since I was a little girl, I have loved the feeling of the wind on my body and through my hair.  I found it to be ticklish, exhilarating, and mysterious.  So this one day, I decided that I would go outside and run around my house, against the wind, to see what it would feel like.  It was hard, I remember how challenged I was by trying to move my body through it as fast as I could.  I loved it, I came back inside a little breathless and definitely inspired.

This morning I was reading some of the art journal that I kept during treatment.  I love to use spiral bound journals that have unlined paper so I can draw and write.  I came across an entry where I was speculating about how cancer would inspire my work.  I found an idea for starting a website, and I wanted to title my first blog “Running against the wind”, because for me it captured what it was like to go through cancer treatment.  The feeling of breathlessness- not really being able to stop and rest because there was so much action required, the treatments take such a toll on your mind, body, spirit and sense of self.  The anguish of watching your loved ones struggle to cope with the fear and stress.  The requirement of living boldly in the face of the unknown, against something that is trying to knock you down.

Yet there is the pleasure you experience at the same time- the acts of love and kindness from family, friends and strangers, finding your strength amidst the storm, letting go of the small stuff, appreciating the coexistence of suffering and beauty.  And a definitive reminder that while this is hard, you are still very much alive- and fighting for it.  The sensory stimulation of being in treatment is very comprehensive and undeniable, just like the wind when it blows.

This past weekend I had the honor and privilege to join my fellow survivors in a local fundraising event called the Tri for a Cure, a women only event, to support the Maine Cancer Foundation.  I had set the goal last summer when treatment had just ended, that I wanted to be well enough to participate.  It was an amazing day, and my good friend, the wind- was there right with me.  In fact, she brought her close companion, the rain.  It couldn’t have been a more perfect homage to the experience of treatment, and the beauty of crossing the finish line with family, friends, and strangers cheering us on.

– 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 an individual program, in person or via Skype, teaching art and meditation; workshops; and this weekly blog. Please visit our website to learn more: www.creative-transformations.com.

Healing Mind, Healing Spirit, Healing via Creativity 0 comments on Accessing our sphere of influence

Accessing our sphere of influence

When your life is in turmoil, one can easily feel that things are spinning out of control.  Our day in and day out “routines” can lull us into a false sense of security, and then all of the sudden something happens that completely changes the story.  We may wish for a quick resolution, but often that isn’t an option.  Nor is it an option to completely fall apart, because our survival requires us to stay attentive to what is going on.  So what can we do?

Quite often these moments actually require us to do something that is completely foreign to our instinct to fight or flee.  The antidote is to surrender, to insert a pause.  To practice the art of accepting the present moment for what it is and trusting yourself to be able to manage what will be.  Trying to control the turmoil won’t help and it isn’t likely possible, but stepping back, surrendering to what is gives us the opportunity to step out of the chaotic mind and into a more peaceful moment to evaluate our options.  I like to think of this as the sphere of influence, the tangible opportunities for us to examine our options at any one moment.  Even if it is to simply, and profoundly, be with our breath.

Getting into the mindset of surrender takes time and practice, especially for our striving culture that encourages us to “take our destiny” into our own hands through action, action, action.  Some general tips include, examining our fears if we let go/surrender, figuring out if we are in our own “business”  (ie where we have influence) or in that of another, contemplating if letting go would allow us to feel more free (ie less responsible for the outcome).

Meditation is an amazing tool for the creating space to surrender, yet this may seem intimidating.  Since turmoil creates a lot of internal tension, you might begin by trying to externalize that onto paper.  Grab a piece of paper, some art supplies that appeal to you and that are easy to use (like craypas, charcoal, or colored pencils).  Begin by tapping into the tension and select the color that best represents it.  Find a way to abstractly show that on the paper, following your instinct about the next steps to take.  This art does not need to be beautiful, realistic, etc, it simply needs to try to reflect how you feel inside.  As you draw, the internal tension will likely ease and given sufficient time it will feel meditative or prepare you for meditating.

– 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 an individual program, in person or via Skype, teaching art and meditation, workshops and this weekly blog. Please visit our website to learn more: www.creative-transformations.com.

Healing Self, Healing Spirit, Healing via Creativity 0 comments on These are the stories that must be told.

These are the stories that must be told.

This phrase came to me a few years ago, as I was walking home from work and thinking about the driving force behind my views of how we heal. You see, by nature I am an introverted person (with extroverted highlights) and an internal processor, yet I learned long ago that sharing our stories not only offers the opportunity for us to heal but also creates the opportunity for connection.

Often the stories that we need to tell are the ones that hold the most internal struggle, frequently they are filled with conflicting emotions or perhaps with messages of how we are “supposed” to be reacting to the content.  As Mary Oliver so wisely writes in her poem, The Journey, “But little by little, as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of the clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own…”.

Connection, with self and others, is at the center of creating meaning, purpose and stoking the spiritual fire for meeting the next challenge we face. Not only can this literally save our lives, it offers the chance to assist others in their own healing. Frequently in my sessions with clients, we discuss what the impact would be if we dropped the social mask and became more real with one another. The time and effort spent in maintaining appearances is exhausting and the suppression of the stories that must be told takes a toll on our body, mind, and spirit.

Certainly, it’s important to recognize with whom it is safe to be vulnerable, as a beloved colleague of mine often says “a healthy dose of mistrust is important”.

We all carry within ourselves stories that need to be healed. Therapy is often the packing and unpacking of these stories, and it is often the healing power of validation that begins to release the pain we have held onto. Using art to express the story offers the teller the opportunity to externalize it, and thus observe it from new angles and transform it when needed. This is the heart of the individual sessions that are offered, the power of it is palpable.

So if you would like to try this out on your own, ask yourself- what is the story which needs to be told today?

– 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, as well as workshops and this weekly blog. Please visit our website to learn more: www.creative-transformations.com.

Healing Self, Healing via Creativity, Survivorship 0 comments on Tapping into our internal reservoir

Tapping into our internal reservoir

Have faith that your internal reservoir is deep enough to guide you through the dark night of the soul…

Being diagnosed with a life threatening illness or having a life threatening injury take the world as you know it and turns it completely on it’s head.  As they say… in a New York minute, everything can change.  The resulting shock can have you questioning so many things- is this real?  who am I? The world suddenly feels unsafe, our lives so vulnerable, and we face one of the universal fears- death.  It is an existential dilemma that puts us into a place of shock and confusion.  While this doesn’t last forever, it can certainly feel unending when you are in it.

I have been there, stumbling, fumbling through the darkness, on the brink of despair and fear that I can not take one more step.  Through the dysfunction of my childhood, the aftermath of my mother’s death, my own battle with cancer, and the places in between.  I was such a sensitive child, I cried at the end of every movie- whether the ending was happy or sad.  After my mom died, I kept reminding myself, you just need to breathe.

As I have processed my experiences, I came to the conclusion that two vital parts of my “self” connected me to the deep reservoir of perseverance and resilience.  My internal rebel, who was angry and defiant about something external trying to take me down; and my deep, sweet spiritual self that whispered “you can do it” while reminding me that at some point or another the suffering would be connected to purpose.  Even in the darkest moments, they were able to show me the light, and encouraged me to keep on the path.

As I have matured, I have become much more protective of this reservoir; knowing that I cannot be of service to others if I am not thoughtful and compassionate with myself.  And since I am deeply committed to serving others, I need to be deeply committed to myself.

So I invite you today to sit in a quiet spot, center yourself through breath and open up your art journal.  Can you create an image that represents your reservoir?  What color and shape does it wish to be?  Do you know what it’s surroundings look like?  How is it fed? Honoring yourself by spending time in contemplation may bring you deep reward, and inspiration for preserving one of your greatest assets- the internal reservoir.

– 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, as well as workshops and this weekly blog. Please visit our website to learn more: www.creative-transformations.com.