The first time you walk into the treatment room is a poignant moment. You’re crossing the barrier between the life as you knew it and entering into a world that people fear. You’re scared, uncertain of what is going to happen and how you’re going to survive it. Yet you’re also compelled to take this next step, knowing that it’s important for getting the chance to live longer.

You walk into an universe that is filled with people who are a lot like you. They’re sitting down, hooking up, and hoping for the best. Most are with loved ones, some are alone. Some are newbies, like you, others are veterans. Some will be there for hours, others are fortunate to have less “bags” on the docket.

The nurses attend to you with care. I wonder what it is like for them, to hook people up to their medicine, knowing that the chemo will wreak havoc with their bodies and minds. Knowing that this treatment will not save everyone, yet taking the time to connect and treat each person with care. Nurses are an important lifeline to the chemo patient, as they are the “on the ground” practical wizards who know how to help you try and manage the impact while responding quickly to when things go afoul.

As a young person with cancer, many of the faces didn’t match my own. Here and there I did see a peer, and I always reached out to them energetically, even though frequently I didn’t speak with them. Chemo often is an internal process of trying to tune out everything that is not necessary (which is often propelled by Benadryl and Ativan depending on what your regimen is!).

Chemo was my first intervention. I am thankful that my eagerness to be “doing something” about my cancer helped me to push through the trepidation I felt. As an art therapist, I leaned on what I knew, bringing with me my traveling art journal and supplies. My first drawing (see below) explored the duality of my feelings. I was terrified, curious, and yet also feeling very held. I was deeply grateful.

What I could not have anticipated, was that this drawing would be very comforting to my kids. When I showed it to them the following day, explaining to them what it was, they immediately sat down and attempted to copy it. Especially my youngest child, who would draw it (or ask me to outline one for him to draw), multiple times over the coming weeks. It changed a painful moment into a shared experience, which I treasure.

Here are some ways you can infuse creativity into your chemo experience:

  • Reflective drawing, similar to what I did which was to translate what was happening inside of me onto paper
  • Creative visualization– one of the ways I coped with having poisonous medicine infused into my veins was to imagine it washing away the cancer while being gentle with my other cells.
  • Structured drawing– like those pre-made adult coloring books that have a picture already established. This can help with performance anxiety.
  • Writing letters to yourself and/or your loved ones- whether it’s capturing the moment or writing words of comfort and hope, trust your instinct here.

Even if you are through with chemotherapy, you will still have emotional leftovers. Creatively processing them can take you to new levels of healing. Unsure of how to do that or where to begin? Let’s talk! Fill out the contact form on my website and we can explore working together.

-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 emotionally from cancer. Through Creative Transformations, she works with people in person and online to offer the self assessment toolcancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, virtual workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.