There were two times that the awesome NP on my oncology team warned me that I might emotionally struggle. The first was just before the third Adriamycin  (aka red devil)/Cytoxan chemotherapy treatment. She mentioned that for many breast cancer survivors this happened to be one of the hardest, not just because the side effects are more intense but also because there is still one left to go of the big guns before the “little” guns of Taxol and Carboplatin (which were not little guns at all for me). I was grateful for the heads up, because it helped to normalize the experience.

The second time she warned me about emotional stress for cancer survivors was closer to the end of the 5 months of chemo, prior to the bilateral mastectomy and radiation. She dropped a hint that many survivors found the transition to post treatment life challenging, noting that many found that seeing their treatment team less created more anxiety. She was supportive and encouraging, wanting me to be prepared and assuring me that I could call my team if I had any symptoms that made me worry the cancer was back.

But with all of the warnings in the world, no one can really prepare you fully for how isolated you can feel, especially if you are not regularly interacting with other cancer survivors. Even if you are interacting with other survivors, it still means that you are likely sitting with a lot and trying to manage it on your own.

The warnings were helpful, but what I really needed were tools to help me figure out some kind of a plan or map for healing. I did a ton of self advocacy to get connected to the providers who could help me, and most of the conversations about my symptoms happened because I started them.

My providers were responsive, but they were not proactive in helping me figure this out.

As I have been developing the services I offer through Creative Transformations, this problem, this lack of assessment from my providers, really kept me provoked. Because I knew that my training and expertise in mental health and trauma gave me a major advantage. Helped me to successfully advocate for myself. Helped me to be self aware. Helped me to know that things can get better if they are addressed.

Yet, no cancer survivor should have to be an expert in order to figure this out, because each one of us has our own unique role on this planet- we do not have to be a jack of all trades simply to be able to THRIVE.

It occured to me that as a gift to my community, I could develop a tool to help you identify how you are doing and what needs to be addressed.  The self assessment tool is now available on the website, along with its natural companion- a low cost, small group, virtual workshop called “Back to Life, Back to Reality: Decoding Cancer Survivorship”. You can check out the tool for free, it is there to help you!

They, your providers, might not be able to tell you what to expect when cancer treatment ends, but that is not because they don’t care. It takes having been there to really get it.

-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, she works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, workshops, and this weekly blog. Check out the individual packages, the self assessment tool, and virtual workshops.  Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.