One of the unexpected ways that a cancer diagnosis can impact our psyche is the effect it has on our sense of self confidence.  While self confidence exists on a spectrum, from low to over-confidence; as we mature, the goal is to have self confidence that is defined by a realistic appraisal of our judgment, ability, power, and so forth.  When our self confidence is based in reality, we can often feel capable of navigating the ups and downs of our lives as we know it.

However, hearing the words that you have cancer, isn’t something that most of us anticipate.  It brings us face-to-face with one of our deepest fears, our mortality.  It causes us to come to terms with our lack of control over our lives.  It asks us to take action and accept medical interventions that have serious side effects.  It asks us to take a major leap of faith, to trust that our doctors will be able to safely get us to the other side… This list could go on and on.

Since sitting with the unknown is such an uncomfortable place for most of us to be, we may struggle to accept the changes and confusion that this time brings.  Parts of our life that use to feel more effortless to navigate can suddenly feel foreign and unknown, causing further disruption in our self confidence. If we tie our self confidence to the desire to control the experience, we can deepen our pain.

In these moments of dire need, it is critical to find ways that allow us to stay present rather then kicking off the fight or flight response.  To do so, this often requires a blend of relaxation techniques that keep us inside of our bodies, while stoking the fires of resiliency that can help us tolerate the distress we feel in order to remain in tune with our lives for as long as we have the honor to live them. defines resilience as:

1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position,   etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity,   or the like; buoyancy.
I find that when I don’t have the answer to a dilemma, I often seek guidance and inspiration to help me find my way.  I love the definition above, because when we are faced with a crisis, we may not know how to be or feel resilient.
However, if we pluck out the words “elasticity and buoyancy” from above, we can use them as a mantra for what we are seeking, moment to moment, to help us through.  We can apply this mantra to our body, mind, spirit or self.  When we focus on what we seek, we are much more apt to recognize it when it arrives.
For example, I continued to go to yoga during cancer treatment even though I knew that I would need to accept that my ability would be different.  Not only did this help keep my mind more elastic (i.e. willing to expand it’s ideas of what my yoga abilities were), but it became more buoyant (i.e. able to float in the unknown) because I really began to understand the concept of seeing what the yoga teacher was always talking about, being with what my body was capable of that day, in that moment.  This practice continued to grow my capacity for self compassion, which improved my resiliency and ultimately allowed me to feel deeply confident in my ability to face adversity.
In the documentary, Tig, Tig Notaro bravely allows us to witness how 3 traumatic life experiences that happened back to back, including a cancer diagnosis, effected her self confidence.  In my mind, this is such a gift because so frequently we hide behind a social mask when we are feeling so vulnerable.  To watch her stumbling forward, following her instinct to continue on despite the confusion, fear and sadness was really moving.
Cancer can be a transformative experience.  The trick is to continue to keep your well full enough, to give you the strength to move through it, embracing the vulnerability and trusting you will come out on the other side whole.
– 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.