I was finishing up my run the other day, and one of my favorite songs from my younger years came on… Back to Life by Soul II Soul, and it seemed like the perfect title to the dilemma that one faces when treatment for a serious illness or injury ends. Let me describe why it is a dilemma…

Imagine this: you have been in an intense period of treatment, in which attending doctor’s appointments becomes almost a full time job. Your body almost feels like it has become public property, for the amount of time that it is poked, prodded, examined and received intervention. With good fortune, you have hopefully had an attentive and responsive medical team plus received support from family, friends, and community to help you and your family to survive the ordeal. You have been doing active treatment to address a serious problem, and while the side effects may have been draining, it still feels like you are working on a solution, which feels empowering.

And all of the sudden, it’s done.

This period of intense focus, numerous appointments, and intervention has ended, and hopefully you are in a place of remission. You are relieved, as well as your community of support, but now you are in a place of unanticipated confusion, asking yourself, what just happened to me? The adrenaline that you used to “stay the course” has begun to dissipate, and in it’s wake are the thoughts, feelings, experiences that you couldn’t fully process because you needed to make it through the process. And frequently your loved ones don’t understand because they are just so happy that it is done and that now you all can get “back to life, back to reality”.

And while your support system might assume that things are done, in fact the work for the survivor has just begun.

This can be a very lonely place to find yourself in, and while it might feel upsetting to consider this, in many ways it is an absolutely necessity for you to arrive here. It is necessary because you need this opportunity to quietly go within and sort out the process of emotionally healing your body, mind, spirit and self. To incorporate how these experiences have completely altered your identity. To address the fear that your will have a recurrence. And while it is in some ways a solitary journey, that doesn’t mean you can’t have companionship. However, it likely means that your companions need to be others who have been through something similar and healers who can help guide your way.

This is why I wish to share the power of art and meditation as a vehicle for healing, because so often one can feel completely overwhelmed. Going through a life threatening illness and injury is traumatic. We are impacted in some very obvious ways- such as facing the possibility of dying, and in some very subtle ways. Some triggers will be more obvious that others. Art and meditation can help us tap into the less verbal parts of our experience and help us recreate thoughts, feelings, and experiences on paper. When we externalize them, not only can it offer a sense of relief and peacefulness, but it can also help us begin to organize and re-pack the experience bit by bit, so that it can become a part of us in a more gentle way.

– 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.