Treatment had ended, I was blessed to be cancer-free, and I was slowly piecing together the battered and bruised aspects of my life. One can only prepare so much for the ending of treatment, and for many it is a tumultuous time. Letting go of actively addressing a life threatening condition requires us to confront a new unknown, the possibility of recurrence, and the slippery slope of interpreting whether or not one’s various body sensations (that used to feel like everyday aches and pains) are potential evidence that the cancer has come back. Especially when you consider that the impact of aggressive treatment on one’s body seems to require about the same length of time to address through a variety of rehabilitation methods, if not longer.
It’s a delicate balance, this phase of physical, emotional, spiritual and identity healing. It’s not linear, there is no true Step A, B, C. If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I am a huge advocate for the practice of art and meditation to tap into our experience in a gentle way, breaking it down into manageable bites. I am also a big fan of humor, because sometimes you just need a little levity to bring you out of a deeply emotional place and into your body again.
As I was figuring things out, I came upon Tig Notaro’s documentary, “Tig”, in which she bravely allowed herself to be filmed as she healed following the death of her mom, her battle with breast cancer and C.diff which essentially all happened at the same time. It was so powerful to see her honest display of being incredibly vulnerable and shaken, while continuing on, speaking her truth and seeking to find herself again. I laughed and cried throughout the entire show. It’s a gem.
Humor was an essential tool during my treatment as well, it helped me to shake off the stress and giggle. I have been keeping a running list of moments that could make you laugh or cry, to help with the bittersweet moments myself and my loved one’s faced. Here’s a few of the golden ones:
- My older son telling me, in the middle of a birthday party for his best friend, that I looked like Emperor Palpatine. What a drag that it didn’t coincide with Halloween, as I am terribly un-creative when it comes to costumes.
- My younger son, who was getting tired of seeing inquisitive looks from his classmates, introducing me by saying “This is my mom, she’s bald”
- A good OMG moment was when a classmate asked my older son- “Is this your grandmother?”
- After my first radiation treatment, allowing myself to just honor that treatment fatigue/rotten mood by laughing along with David Sedaris’ comedic outlook on life.
- Finally, while it broke my heart to hear my older son ask my surgeon prior to the bilateral mastectomy- “Will she die?”, my youngest son followed it with “If she dies, I will kill you”. Clearly, he was frightened too, but it was such an unexpected thing to say we couldn’t help but laughing at the same time. And then we followed that will lots of reassurance that everything was going to be ok.
I imagine that if you are reading this, you may have your own stories of humor amidst the horror. I would love to hear them, so feel free to share them in the comments. And if you need a little humor TLC, I highly recommend Tig’s documentary.
– 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.