Cancer survivors are an inspiring group of people, we face an illness that most people feel terrified to even contemplate. Although we know that there is not much choice in the matter, it is still quite a feat.
To face the diagnosis and its treatment, we go into survival mode, which means our focus has to become laser sharp, one foot in front of the other- tuning out (or attempting to) unnecessary distractions because we need every ounce of energy that we can muster.
However, while this may be effective in getting us through diagnosing and treatment, if we don’t allow ourselves to ease out of fight or flight mode, the tension we hold onto mentally and physically takes a significant toll. Tension is the physical manifestation of stress.
The first time I noticed a shift in my body following the conclusion of treatment, was observing my internal response to preparing for the final surgeries. This was approximately 4 months after active treatment ended. Even though I was going to physical therapy weekly, I had not realized the extent to which my body was beginning to release from it’s high alert mode.
The update that I wrote to my community of support described this awareness unfolding:
What has struck me recently about this experience was recognizing how my body has begun to feel more private again. Going through treatment- there is this way in which your body becomes public, with the multitude of medical intervention, attention and examination. To get through it, you have to detach to a certain degree because most of us don’t live under that level of scrutiny on a regular basis. To be in touch with each time it is poked, prodded, etc would be exhausting. Not to mention that the physical changes, like total hair loss, announce to anyone paying attention “I’m sick!”. It can be a bit overwhelming. So, while ultimately I know this upcoming procedure is going to be much easier than everything else, I have thankfully lost a little bit of that “thick skin” which does make me feel a bit more vulnerable to it all.
That last line, feeling more vulnerable to it all, is why we have such a hard time transitioning from a survival mode to a relaxation mode. In order to be successful, we have to face the innate vulnerability that comes with facing a life threatening circumstance. Releasing tension involves accepting our vulnerability, and this is not like a light switch that can be flicked on and off.
Therefore, by beginning with the body, working from the inside out, we can begin to practice the art of releasing and finding ease. It is through the body that we can begin to relax our mind.
Independent of where we are in our cancer treatment process, by starting off with short periods of time, we gently introduce feeling respite and safety to the body. We build a sanctuary within.
In a nutshell, we can begin to reconnect with our body through scanning it and then using our intention to invite more ease. Some common options are body scans, hatha yoga, and progressive muscle relaxations. To build an artistic practice, read my blog about cellular meditation.
There are so many resources, thanks to the internet, and I have attached a few options that I found. Of course, if you have a local center that offers wellness resources for cancer survivors, they frequently offer classes and services that will assist you on your way. These centers come with the added benefit of meeting other cancer survivors, decreasing our isolation.
– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former 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.