Last summer, I followed Joan Lunden’s #stillsurviving campaign, and I remember the reaction I had when I saw her beautiful photo from her final day of chemo.  As a fellow TNBC survivor, I could see the complex emotions within her eyes- because the ending of chemo is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.  It feels wonderful to know that you don’t have to put any more poison into your body, but scary because you shift from actively fighting a disease to praying for it to not recur.

My body was struggling in the 5th month of my chemo, and so treatment ended abruptly, 4 Taxol treatments and 1 Carboplatin treatment short of the initial plan.  I was so disappointed, it kind of felt like I had come close to the summit of an incredibly high peak and said- “meh, close enough”!  I even went through a period of envy when I would see people’s final day of chemo photos- with their signs, their celebrating loved ones- ringing the bell.  I missed the “graduation ceremony” and it was a bummer.  Of course, I was mostly relieved because I was no longer going to be slogging through the chemo side effects.  And I needed to be healthy enough to have the mastectomy, which almost had to be postponed as my immune system struggled to kick a virus I had developed.

Yet, clearly I still had some things to process, because it all came pouring back when I saw Joan Lunden’s photo.  This cascading of sensory information was not terribly intense, but it reminded me of how powerful, and possibly overwhelming it can be, when you are in the midst of experiencing it.  When you have been through something traumatic like cancer, this cascading process is likely to repeat itself, over and over again, until you come to some point of resolution.

This is why I am such an advocate of using the arts to capture this process.  Using art helps to slow it down while simultaneously making it more concrete- more visible, so that we feel like we have tangible material to work with.  When you are in the midst of a cascading recollection, it’s like multiple sensory switches have been flicked on all at once.  Unless you are a rockstar at remaining fully grounded and Zen no matter what is thrown at you, you are going to want to have support.

Grabbing that visual journal and drawing out what you are experiencing offers a snapshot into the complexity of the experience.  And once you have captured it, you have a choice- to either walk away and give yourself a break, or to begin to break it apart, observe it and ultimately make meaning from it.  There is no right or wrong answer, especially when we attend to what our needs are in the present.

If you are curious about learning this process, set up a free consultation with me and we can discuss the potential of working together.  And until next week, happy Thursday!

– 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 Individual 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.