I came cross Tig Notaro’s documentary, Tig, a few months after treatment had ended.  For some reason, I was home in the middle of the day by myself, which was such a luxury.  If you are unfamiliar with it, Tig’s documentary captures her experience after having to confront three major life events simultaneously, including being diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer.  In the film, she unpacks the tremendous impact this had on her mind, body, spirit and her identity- all in the midst of receiving a significant boost to her career because she had bravely shared her raw experience on stage.

Tig’s disclosure made it so evident of how much need there was to have these often taboo subjects- death, illness, facing the unknown, talked about openly.  The film made me laugh and cry, it was so moving and inspiring to see how she did not hide the struggle she felt after the medical intervention had ended and her life was going back to “normal”.

It is understandable that we might want to believe that when treatment ends, we can just go back to normal, celebrating that it is done.  Of course there is relief, but there is also all of the unprocessed thoughts and feelings of our experience that need attending to.  There is the physical recovery of the body that has endured life saving , yet toxic, treatments.  There is abrupt and stark triggers that blindside us with the need to be heard.  Like this memory from Tig’s memoir “I’m just a person”

When I returned home from New York, I looked anxiously around my apartment.  I had not been there for any substantial amount of time since everything had turned inside out, and coming home to the stillness of my life before it all changed was almost haunting… it was the scene before the crime.  The picture before the crash.  I was staring at my naivete, my assumption that life would continue to go on right where it had left off.

If you find yourself in this position, patience and compassion are going to be your most important allies.  Connecting with others who are in a similar spot is important, because it helps to break down the isolation and does not leave you alone with your thoughts.  For further guidance on how to process this experience, check out the remainder of my blogs, or consider contacting me for some cancer coaching sessions or the DIY art therapy program.

– 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. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; 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.