#TherapyThursday Blog

Uncategorized 0 comments on Healing the disrupted connections that cancer causes

Healing the disrupted connections that cancer causes

Last week I facilitated SCANxiety workshops, which were a blend of information, sharing and experiencing the healing power of art as therapy. Cancer disrupts the connection that you have with your instinct and inner healer, processing via art restores it, something we experienced live last week.

Part of the workshop experiential was guiding each participant to connect with an experience of feeling scanxiety and reflecting that experience onto paper. As we worked with the process together, I guided the room to respond to what they drew. For some, it was expressing of what they wanted to do to the SCANxiety monster. For others, it was expressing what support was wanted or needed.

What I observed in both scenarios was release and relief. It was an affirmation that what you need is not to escape your reality, what you need is a way to respond to your reality.

While escaping offers temporary relief, ultimately you land right back in the thick of what is. Finding ways to respond both satisfies your need for validation and reminds you that you’re still here and able to stare reality in the face. You may have limits to how much you can control life Realizing that you’ve got the capacity to respond to chaos creates an inner peace that helps you to move with the chaos rather than be dragged down by it.

When art becomes the mirror that validates your experience, you repair the disrupted connection with your instinct. It’s repaired because you draw upon your own unique wisdom to respond to what you have expressed on paper. Time and time again I witness the spontaneous healing that art brings, and I’m deeply honored and grateful for the chance to be present.

If you wanted to be a part of the workshop but didn’t have the chance, we’re in the process of rescheduling the virtual SCANxiety workshop. Click on this link, and I will reach out with you with the dates and times that we’re looking at.

-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.

Healing Mind 0 comments on How does SCANxiety show up for you?

How does SCANxiety show up for you?

Next week I am facilitating in person and virtually the SCANxiety workshop I developed, which uses art therapy to tame the beast. Someone who was interested commented while they did not fear the results from scan, they do experience claustrophobia. They wondered if my techniques could help in that situation.

The short answer is yes, as art is a powerful way to process any phobia or fear that arises, because it allows you to take that energy and get it out onto paper. After all, the monsters in your head always become more manageable when you shine light on them.

AND this question also illuminated the very important point that SCANxiety comes in many shapes and sizes. Perhaps this person has always struggled with claustrophobia, but either way being fearful of going into the scanner is one way that people experience scanxiety.

In the workshop, you’ll have the chance to work with how scanxiety specifically shows up for you. We’ll talk about the causes of scanxiety and why the brain is not always our friend when it comes to processing scanxiety.

The goal of using art is to help the brain be able to neutralize components of the scan experience that were not responsible for the danger cancer brought to your life. Additionally, when you allow yourself to process visually what has happened to you, you allow your psyche to discharge some of the energy that it has trapped inside.

Helping your brain and psyche through art will never fully remove the impact of SCANxiety, but it will assist you in moving through it. Think of it like removing obstacles that have caused a dam in a river. When you do that, it removes the incredible build-up of tension and allows the river to flow naturally once again. After all, Jon Kabat Zinn put it best when it comes to our emotions “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”. Creativity and art function in the same way, and best of all you don’t need to be an artist to benefit from the practice.

Here is a testimonial about the SCANxiety worksop from a prior attendee, who has Stage 4 breast cancer:

“Not until Stephanie McLeod-Estevez’ workshop on “SCANXIETY: Taming the Beast through Art” would I have ever realized Creativity– the spark of one kind or another that’s in everyone– could be as powerful in treating the mind, body & heart of those w/ cancer as medication, radiation, meditation, support groups, therapy & even faith in God. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie showed how to process traumatic memories & ongoing fears we choose not to deal with by putting them on paper. To express what’s going on inside of me. What does the SCANxiety Beast look like? What kind of things does the monster say to me? What do I want to say back? Very empowering workshop, very cleansing & freeing. Thank you Stephanie!”

I’d love to have you join me next week, whether it’s at one of the in person workshops in Scarborough, Maine or virtually through Zoom. You can learn more and register by clicking this link. If those times do not fit into your schedule, fill out the contact form and request to be added to the waitlist.

-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.

Healing Spirit 0 comments on Keeping the sparks of connection going

Keeping the sparks of connection going

A couple of weeks ago, I had the tremendous opportunity to facilitate two experiential workshops at Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s annual metastatic conference. It was a weekend of immersion with a community who profoundly understands and supports one another. This is always incredible to both witness and be included in.

When we find our tribe, it can fill the well of connection that we don’t always have in our day-to-day lives. Going to a weekend conference, you are literally immersed into a deep pool of understanding, which hopefully leaves you feeling re-energized in multiple ways.

Leaving a conference like this is bittersweet, especially when you consider the fact that living with Stage IV cancer means that you and people you’ve met are facing a life threatening illness. While there are no guarantees in life, the general public gets to walk around without being highly attuned to just how precious time and health can be.

It’s also bittersweet because maintaining connection with your tribe is tricky when you live far apart. I always experience a post-conference let down myself. It’s an energetic void that is difficult to replace.

You can focus on keeping the embers of connection glowing even when your tribe is far flung. There are several ways to do this, but since I’m an art therapist, I reach towards forms of expression that help me to embody the experience and people that I am physically far from.

Creativity and art can become the language you use to interpret and express that which you feel inside. By using visual arts to describe your experience, you give yourself permission to lean in and feel the connections you made, which in and of itself begins the process of nurturing the energy that holds the memory.

When you take the time to draw out how you feel (and this is not fancy art making by any means), you’ll find yourself tapping into your unique wisdom that has ideas about how to support and care for yourself.

Often I find that my clients have lost this connection with their deepest, instinctive wisdom. The work we do together often repairs it, allowing for their innate resiliency and confidence to be healed.

Would you like guidance on using art to keep the sparks of connection brewing? I’ve recorded a video which is up in the private FaceBook group that I facilitate- Creating Connections with Creative Transformations. We’d love to have you be a part of it, click here to request to join.

-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.

Survivorship 0 comments on Mapping out your emotional recovery from cancer

Mapping out your emotional recovery from cancer

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.

Healing via Creativity 0 comments on Creativity and CHEMO

Creativity and CHEMO

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.

Healing Self 0 comments on 5 tips for boosting your resiliency in the face of cancer

5 tips for boosting your resiliency in the face of cancer

The summer I was 9, a friend and I got pulled far away from the shore by an ocean riptide. Thankfully we were together on an inflatable float, but we were scared. It happened in the blink of an eye.

As we began kicking our hearts out to go back into shore, I remember looking down into the water and becoming terrified by the shadows I saw. It nearly overwhelmed me, but my survival instinct kicked in, and I forced myself to only look ahead. I decided I would only focus on the end goal, to reach the safety of the shore, which we did.

When you are confronted with cancer, it too is an overwhelming experience. Part of coping with it is being able to keep your gaze looking slightly ahead, especially when you’re in survival mode. The downside of this, is struggling to do so while also giving your thoughts and feelings room to express themselves.

This is where resiliency comes in. Dictionary.com offers these definitions of resiliency, both have potential to be used as a metaphor for moving from surviving to thriving with cancer:

1.the power or ability to return to the original form, position,  etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
2.ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.
Going through cancer diagnosis and treatment physically and emotionally puts you into situations that bend, compress, or stretch you. When that is happening, working on your elasticity, ie your ability to be mentally and physically adaptable, is very useful for survival and will contribute to your ability to thrive.
The ability to recover from illness and adversity isn’t only for those who will finish treatment, rather it can be possible at any point in the experience. I love the word buoyancy in this definition of resiliency. It’s a beautiful metaphor of being able to keep your head above water while accepting what is. Similar to what I experienced as a child who was far away from shore.
Here are my top 5 tips for boosting your resiliency
  1. Practicing the art of welcoming the unwelcome. This idea comes from a book written by Guy Meadows on overcoming insomnia, called The Sleep Book. When you’re confronted with something like cancer, there’s going to be many things about the experience that are hard to accept. However, if you want to boost your resiliency, it’s important to find ways to overcome the impulse to avoid or reject, as this will only deplete you in the long run. Welcoming the unwelcome is a way to validate that something is not wanted, making room for accepting the full spectrum of any given moment.
  2. Staying curious. When you’re curious, you’re inviting a quality of openness into your psyche. Someone who is curious is not trying to dominate, predetermine, or control a situation. When you’re curious, you’re shifting into an active investigation mode. Being curious allows you to see something more clearly without the crippling effect of self criticism and judgement.
  3. Asking yourself: what is possible for me, right now, in this present moment? Ok, confession time, I love to strategize. I find it to be a very dynamic process. However, the downside is that when I’m in strategizing mode, I’m not tuned into the present moment. I’m future focused. Staying present with the moment can be a real challenge, especially if you’re struggling with acceptance. Asking yourself what’s possible encourages resiliency by staying true to what is, while seeking options. This question builds self-nurturing, and supports the practice of being curious.
  4. Meeting your needs and accepting support. If you want to boost your resiliency, it’s important to be really honest about what you can do for yourself, while accepting support when it feels like a good fit. It’s not selfish to accept the support AND it’s not selfish to have boundaries around who helps and what the support is.
  5. Finding ways to safely explore and process your thoughts and feelings. This is generally most successful with a blend of actions and activities, not a “one size fits all” kind of approach. Individual and group therapy, workshops, conferences, self care activities, and so forth fall into this category. As an art therapist and cancer survivor, I advocate for art and creativity as an essential tool for healing. You can read more about why in the blog I wrote for Living Beyond Breast Cancer, ahead of the experiential workshops I am facilitating at their annual metastatic conference this April.

If you’d like to boost your resiliency, here are some upcoming opportunities to work with me! And if you haven’t already, don’t forget to sign up to receive my blog by email.

What do you do to keep yourself resilient? I’d love to hear your thoughts, let’s chat 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.