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

The identity dance

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

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

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

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

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

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Creative Transformations offers individual sessions, in person or via Skype, workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

 

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

Stressful conversations

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Creative Transformations offers individual sessions, in person or via Skype, workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

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

For when (not if) darkness comes

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

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

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

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

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

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Creative Transformations offers individual sessions, in person or via Skype, workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

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

My 5 favorite tools for coping with cancer

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

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

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

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Creative Transformations offers individual sessions, in person or via Skype, workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing 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 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.