Next week, if you live in southern Maine, you have the opportunity to attend a free workshop that I’m giving on mapping out your emotional recovery. It’s open to cancer survivors, in treatment or out of treatment, and their caregivers who want to explore emotional health and wellness. We’ll talk broadly about what the emotional reality of cancer looks like and spotlight sexuality as a destination that often needs TLC when cancer strikes. Register here, you do not need to be involved with New England Cancer Specialist to attend.

However, since not everyone will be able to attend, this week I’d like to share with you why mapping out your emotional recovery from cancer makes sense.

First of all, let’s consider what it is like to be in active treatment:

  • You have a clearly identified problem and diagnostics that can give concrete information about the problem, how effective the treatment is in treating it, and the physical impact on your body
  • Your surrounded by the support of your treatment team and loved ones
  • There are specific contingency plans to manage the challenges that active treatment brings
  • It’s anxiety provoking, yet your focused on a specific goal, to destroy the cancer.

However, the norm is that emotional health and wellness are often less attended to, because the crisis of cancer leaves very little room for anything else. When you’re available to start contemplating your mental health, you may find that there is little guidance or support. When cancer treatment is ending, the deep scars of cancer become undeniable and leave you feeling incredibly vulnerable.

Mapping out your emotional recovery helps provide structure similar to active cancer treatment. It empowers you to feel like you can find your way.

Emotional health and wellness is not as measurable as cancer diagnosing and treatment. Healing requires the ability to sit with a lot of uncertainty, while working towards processing and accepting what has happened to you. And then of course the ability to sit with fears about cancer recurrence or worsening, if you are Stage 4.

As an art therapist, I find the use of metaphor to be grounding and inspirational, especially during uncertain times. Metaphors can work to build in structure to the unknown, to give you a point of focus while remaining open to the unanticipated bumps in the road.

Here are the building blocks for mapping out your emotional recovery from cancer:

  • Destination lists (ie the concerns you have, what you’d like to: heal, improve, reclaim, nurture)
  • The places you’d like to visit (ie the “low hanging fruit goals”/smallest steps to take now, and the stretch goals or desires)
  • Supplies- what do you need to get there?
    • Information
    • Team
    • Inspiration
    • Support

I’d love to hear about your map- what destinations do you have on yours? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

-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.