When you think about the process of being diagnosed and treated for cancer, what do you recall? Who was calling the shots and crafting a plan of action? Who stepped up to offer assistance, support, or advice? Were you an active participant in the process? If you were to summarize the experience of crafting the plan, what would it be?
For me, my word would be TEAM. Of course, there’s several others that are right behind it- like overwhelming, anxiety-ridden, scary, and so forth. But mostly I felt like I had, and created, an amazing team.
I was a part of a team, a team of providers, experts, family and friends. Sometimes I felt like the leader, like when I was researching and selecting providers. Other times, I felt like an organizer, pulling together my resources, figuring out how to do “life” and “treatment” and communicating with my loved ones. There were times that I felt like an active science experiment, because it was my body that they poked, prodded, and assessed to provide my team the info they needed to create a plan. Usually, I felt like an active member of my team, someone who’s input and opinion mattered.
What I rarely felt was alone. I was rarely left by myself to figure out what to do next. There was always someone I could turn to for guidance, direction, problem solving, and support. There was always someone working behind the scenes to make sure that we did everything we could to get the best results.
This meant that during the scariest moments of my life, I felt as protected as I could feel. This meant that I had the security of a plan and the security of how to problem solve challenges at a time in my life when I needed it most. And I was so profoundly grateful.
If you’re fortunate enough to move from active treatment to survivorship, most people experience a significant separation from their team. All of the sudden, the team that had so steadfastly been at your side needs to move on, because their expertise lies in actively treating cancer. You may have a survivorship appointment post treatment, but often this is an information session, not an active assessment of where you are and what you need.
In the Stage 4 community, what I’ve learned is that when the cancer metastasizes, the energy of the team shifts away from finding a cure (even though I know of women who do achieve NED again) towards extending your life as long as possible. Women have found that the warmth they initially felt from providers seems to abate, a departure from the team effort.
Losing the team is one thing, but inevitably, after the crisis from a Stage 4 diagnosis eases, there’s a desire to do what you can to do enhance your quality of life. Yet the focus of the team is typically on what Western medicine can do, which is limited to a very specific problem that hopefully has an answer. You are left to research alternatives, to come up with your own game plan for a more holistic approach to health, wellness and healing. This further deflates the notion of being on a team and increases the feelings of being on your own.
On your own, this is the biggest barrier for emotional health. It’s a barrier because it’s up to you to take it on. And most people won’t have the information, tools, guidance, support, and assessment they need in order to thrive. I’ve seen it time and time again, and it breaks my heart.
From a psychological perspective, being on your own means that you’re more likely to dismiss, doubt, minimize, or judge yourself for the emotional impact that cancer has had on your life. None of these actions will serve you well in the long run.
Which honestly makes it almost criminal, in my opinion, that we don’t do a better job of informing and assessing the emotional impact cancer can have. Because at the minimum, you need the chance to understand what’s happening. It’s the first step towards finding a solution.
In my opinion, your emotional health is the most important resource you can have to confront the indefinite uncertainty that cancer brings to your life. If your emotional health is being attended to, it gives you the capacity for taking on the rest of the demands you face.
This is why I do what I do, and the reason why I’ve recently opened up an Art Therapy for Breast Cancer community on Mighty Networks. It’s the best way I can think of to introduce you to the information, tools, and kindred spirits you need to heal emotionally.
In community, you’ll remove the barrier of being alone. Together, you’ll assess where you’ve been and what you need to do to reclaim yourself, while mastering tools that will support your resiliency and receiving the amazing reward of supporting other women.
In the community, each month we unpack themes that are essential for emotional health and healing. In March, we looked at the need for feeling safe and the importance of being vulnerable. In April, we reckoned with our desire for control and the empowerment of seeking to influence. Next month we’re looking at what it feels like to lose control, and how we need to rebuild our ability to trust if we don’t want to live in fear.
When you join us, you’ll find a warm community of women who are energized to thrive no matter what they’re facing. When you join us, you’ll shed the isolation you feel and you’ll find your innate connection to yourself again, which is essential to feel like you can master the challenges you face.
When you join us, you can start off with the current theme of the month, and cycle back to any themes that you’ve missed. The community is structured to guide you through the process, further dismantling the feeling of being on your own. The growth and potential that you’ll experience is infinite, invigorating, and soothing.
The Art Therapy for Breast Cancer community is open to all stages of breast cancer and is open women who are in active treatment and those who are not. I’d love it if you’d join us! You can check it out for free for 2 weeks, and after that the subscription is $29.99/month but the reward is priceless.
-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 emotionally healing cancer. Stephanie works with people online and in person, offering individual and group cancer coaching and art. Her #TherapyThursday blogs offer guidance for healing the body, mind, spirit and self after cancer. Sign up today so you’ll never miss a blog and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.