If you have been reading my blog, you may already know that I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 40. While this certainly is young, I was blessed with already having children, being in a long term, solid marriage, and being firmly into my career…
My first chemo treatment happened on October 3, 2014, the 16th anniversary of our “USA” wedding (my husband is from another country and we had married their first). It was far from our most romantic celebration, yet it certainly embodied those traditional vows of in sickness and in health. I was simultaneously terrified and eager to get the proverbial “show on the road”. I essentially came home and crawled into bed, my partner lovingly attended to me just as he would on any anniversary.
A few weeks later, I walked over to be with my friends as they got dressed for an epic Halloween party that I was not going to be able to attend because I was in my “chemo low”. I was bald by this point, and as I walked I could hear that there were social gatherings going on as I passed by various houses. Many of my peers were carrying on with their lives as usual, and I was fighting for my life. And while I hoped that this was temporary condition for me, I felt so utterly alone.
Yet as I mentioned before, I was so fortunate that I did not have to confront the possibility of never being able to have children, or having to date and wonder- when and how do I tell this person about my double mastectomy? I had made it through the identity confusion pains of the 20s without having to also face a life threatening illness. I was able to go through the profound transition to motherhood in my 30s and begin to reclaim aspects of myself prior to being in treatment. I had a core group of friends who had also been through their own intense life challenges, and therefore they didn’t pull away because they weren’t sure what to say.
I remember in grad school learning about the typical phases of a person’s life: being in school, possibly going to college, finding your first job, committing to a life partner, creating a family, becoming an active member of your community, etc. We talked about what happens to an individual when they are suddenly catapulted into a phase that is considered to be more advanced- the identity confusion, feelings of isolation as peers cannot relate, not having the benefit of developing the appropriate tools/skills/life experience that prepare us for managing the life event since you have skipped ahead.
The immediate impact of this “skipping ahead” is often tremendously stressful. However, the long term impact is often highly rewarding, including a deep understanding of one’s personal strength in the face of adversity and a profound outlook on what is most important in life. To get to the rewards, it is really important to have processed the experience. This is why Creative Transformations is so important to me. I wish to be your partner in healing, whether we meet via the blog, in a workshop, or in an individual session in person or via the Internet.
– 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.