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Healing Self 0 comments on Sending love to the highly conscientious

Sending love to the highly conscientious

Have you ever felt guilty for being negative and perhaps feared you caused something to happen?

Are you the sort of person who often feels responsible for when something has gone wrong- yet often do not hold others accountable the way you do yourself?

Do you spend time ruminating about how to fix situations or do you find it hard to accept reasonable feedback from others because you feel ashamed that they needed to even give you feedback in the first place?

If so, it may be that you are someone who takes being conscientious and accountable to a level that goes from being healthy to harmful. This can happen for a number of reasons, a common one is being a parentified child. In essence, a parentified child is someone who was raised in a manner that they felt responsible for meeting their own needs, and likely the needs of the parents and family, rather than having faith that a parent was available to fill that roll.

When you are a parentified child, you are meeting needs and responsibilities that are beyond your capabilities, and when the parent fails to recognize this- the message that often becomes internalized is “I am not good enough”. This painful message drives you to try an adapt to the situation, to try and overcome the impossible, which often is not successful and creates a deep sense of failure and insecurity.

Imagine the impact of being diagnosed with cancer on someone who is a parentified child. The challenges of trying to accept what has happened, the challenges of moving forward staring the deep stress of the unknown and uncertainty that cancer brings, the challenges of confronting that even with your best efforts you are not in complete control of your destiny.

I’ve been there. I remember my initial sense of relief that I tested positive for the BRCA2 genetic mutation… because I felt like that let me off the hook for being “responsible” for getting cancer. That is how pervasive the needs can be of a parentified child- because sadly, while this might have bought me “grace” from being the one who failed to be good enough to avoid cancer- it also puts my kids at higher risk of having cancer. I clearly do not want that for them or their offspring and so this response raised my awareness of how I had emotional healing to do related to being a parentified child (yet again!).

This awareness is an example of how deeply impacted your psyche is by the experience of having cancer. It truly touches upon every aspect of your life, especially the areas in which you continue to carry wounds.

It’s a reminder that being tender and compassionate with yourself is an important part of healing emotionally from cancer, because some of those old beasties are going to raise their heads- along with all of the tentacles of experiences, memories and self beliefs that beast is attached to.

For better or worse, it is an opportunity to stare those beasts straight in the eye and to question their validity, while sorting through what salve will be needed in order to soothe the wounds that reopened again.

For these are the stories which must be told in order for our souls to be free.

-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 The mountains you never imagined you would climb

The mountains you never imagined you would climb

This week is the 19th anniversary of my mother’s final peak on her Appalachian Trail through hike- 2,100+ miles from Georgia to Maine. Two weeks from now is the 18th anniversary of her death from metastatic breast cancer. Yes, it is true that life can fully upend itself in a New York minute. On or around the first anniversary of finishing her remarkable hike, my mom made the decision to stop active treatment for cancer- it was not working and treatment was seriously impacting any quality of life that she had left.

As you might imagine, it was incredibly painful that her death fell in the month of October, because it is breast cancer awareness month. Until I became a cancer survivor myself, I had no community to share that agony with, nor did I fully appreciate why this is such a tender month for those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

The grieving process took a long time to fully heal from, and I recall feeling like every October I was doing that death grip on the cliff that kept me from completely losing myself in the ocean of longing, isolation, and despair. This is one of the dark sides of being a caregiver, as we are often less visible and behind the scenes, supporting our loved ones.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, my treatment started in October, which added a new layer of meaning to the month- as well as a new layer of understanding who my mom was and what she had been through. Especially since I had become a mother myself, with children who were much younger than I was when she was first diagnosed.

The other thing that I did not realize about breast cancer awareness month until I was diagnosed with cancer itself, is that fundraising and research dollars are not spent equitably for metastatic cancer research. The death rate has not changed in the past 20 years- even though 30% of all breast cancer cases are metastatic and disproportionately impact younger women. With the multitudes of fundraising purportedly done during October and in numerous breast cancer walks, triathlons, etc., this was shocking to learn. Organizations like Metavivor are seeking to turn the tide, so if you are looking for somewhere to give that directly impacts metastatic breast cancer research- check them out.

In beginning this work with Creative Transformations, I think about the importance of creating community- for it is isolation that creates a significant amount of pain. Recently I have begun a private FB group- Creating Connections with Creative Transformations:

A membership community of cancer survivors (active treatment/not), previvors, and caregivers, who are actively using the tools and guidance of Creative Transformations, LLC. A sacred space to share your art-as-therapy creations, to receive and give support, to enhance your connection with those who GET IT- in a caring, compassionate, and genuine way.

Would you like to join us, especially during this month of Pinktober? If so, click here to request to join. Caregivers are more than welcome to join in as well!

For my community of motherless daughters who are also survivors & previvors, I see you… in all of the mixed up, layered emotions that this combo can bring.

-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 Deep in the feels of the feely feels

Deep in the feels of the feely feels

Yes- I am feeling both silly and sad, reflective and energized, and deep in the feels of the feely feels. I like to call this type of time an emotionally dense moment- for the feelings I am feeling are seeping with intensity and flare.

It’s October, a month that is personally loaded with major life milestones and memories… a month that is huge for the breast cancer community (“patients” and loved ones alike)… a month that stirs all the feels- asking you to somehow bare witness to it all. Something that for most of us is tremendously hard to do.

So when you are feeling all of the feely feels- what is your instinct?

Do you build a wall of protection, to safeguard you from falling apart but one that also prevents you from connecting?

Do you find a deep need to flee away- escaping from the pain that beckons at your doorstep?

Do you stuff the feelings so far in that you end up feeling numb or disconnected from recalling exactly what it was that you pushed away?

The thing is, if you want to feel authentic joy and connection, you cannot afford to only allow certain thoughts and feelings into the party while excluding those which cause you alarm. They come as a package.

Often we feel like it is impossible to allow all of the feels to be present at the same time- it feels completely overwhelming. Yet often it is our fear that prevents us from exploring the possibility of creating a container large enough to allow them to be.

Because this month is so tender, I want to offer what I can to my community. As I mentioned in a video yesterday, I recently opened a closed FaceBook group- Creating Connection with Creative Transformations. I’d love to spend this month with you all using art, creativity, and check ins with one another to help you build that container. You can find the group by going to Creative Transformations’ FaceBook page or by emailing me.

-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 Deep in the messiness…

Deep in the messiness…

Hello again! I can’t believe that it has been a month since I last wrote a #TherapyThursday blog. I have been deep in the messiness of transition and growth this September, which I totally underestimated… most likely a blessing (ie to be a bit naive about what was about to happen) but one that had me coming to terms with needing to be in the flow of all the messiness that change can bring.

I saw this phrase as in response to someone who bravely voiced her vulnerability about how others seem to be managing cancer treatment ending better than she was. I thought ‘Oh how the tentacles of self judgment, shame and guilt can seep into our psyche!’

As Nietzsche said:

When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.

Comparison leads us to distorted places.

Deep in the messiness- when you have been told “you have cancer” it is abundantly clear that life is much messier and unpredictable than you tend to accept when you are moving through the repetitiveness of daily life. This reality is thrust forcibly into your face- and the ripple effect trails into every sector of your life.

Yet as humans, we deeply yearn for the safety and security that homeostasis- or equilibrium- that predictability brings. Anyone coping with cancer, or life after cancer treatment ends, seeks the safety of a lifeboat that offers protection from the constant storm which brews in your body, mind, spirit and self.

However, cancer and post treatment pose a tremendous challenge to this deep need, because in order to find a sense of protection, safety and predictability, you need to accept the antithesis of these deep needs insecurity, vulnerability, and uncertainty. Conditions which drive us to those ideas we conquered long ago.

You may wish for swift resolution; still, moving swiftly towards resolution typically involves some form of suppression. This was why I had such deep appreciation for the post described above- because by sharing this moment of authenticity and bravery with her community- the community replied to honor and hold her when it was needed most.

When you are at the point when life seems to be profoundly messy, profoundly steeped in emotional energy- sometimes what you need the most is a lifeline that you can grasp onto while you feel immersed. If you are someone who is at the point of ending cancer treatment and you are feeling overwhelmed by what to do next- I recommend signing up for the free survivorship self assessment form I offer on my website. The week of October 8th, I will be offering a 5 day virtual week to support you through the completion of that assessment, a week that seeks to support and build a community amongst survivors. Learn more by clicking this link!

-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.

Healing Mind 0 comments on Just to be safe…

Just to be safe…

As a cancer survivor- do the words above make your skin crawl?

They never used to bother me much, but following a cancer diagnosis, these words are almost always followed by some sort of procedure- likely a scan- because rather than make assumptions, the direction is to err on the side of caution, just to be safe.

On one hand, it is certainly not super helpful to leave the unknown up to your imagination. When it comes to cancer, it is really hard not to fear the worst when you are facing uncertainty. Staying totally zen when your onc has found something that they want to “take a look at” is a high expectation to have of yourself, and if you try to cling to that expectation- the internal reaction is likely to be more intense. As I have written before, our feelings are messengers, and they do not appreciate being ignored.

On the other hand, hearing the plan that unfolds from the desire “to be safe”, has you staring straight into the abyss. If you were to imagine that the only way across the abyss was the finest of tightropes, you would be compelled to walk it and likely it would scare the heck out of you. Yet it would be far more logical to cross the abyss using the tightrope, rather than trying to run and jump over it.

When your onc suggests a scan, just to be safe, it is in service of trying to find out important facts- rather than working off of hypothesis. This is crucial, yes, but the tests that follow stir the massive pot of SCANxiety, which in turn requires you to slow down and find a way to support yourself through it.

You may be wondering- how can I support myself through it? Being a big believer in only using compartmentalization as a last resort- this means finding ways to sit with the turmoil within, without getting attached to the thoughts and feelings that are mostly reacting to fear. A tall order.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you are not going to be surprised that I am advocating for art making and creativity as a critical part of supporting yourself. If you want to learn how, I highly recommend you check out the virtual workshop I am running in September, SCANxiety: Taming the BEAST thru art. You can read all about it by clicking here. I hope you can make 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.

Healing Body, Intimacy and Parenting 0 comments on Censoring our scars = Censoring our pain

Censoring our scars = Censoring our pain

Yesterday I had an amazing conversation with Sondra, one of the masterminds behind Bullshit Breast Cancer. Sondra and Mia started Bullshit Breast Cancer to offer a safe place for breast cancer survivors, women and men alike, to share their stories and support one another, offering tips, suggestions and resources.

We talked about so many things, one of them being the emotional harm that comes with being censored by social media, by being locked out of your account, when images of chests post surgery are shared. Shut down, locked out, without any inquiry to clarify your reason for the post, no opportunity to explain, educate, or stick up for yourself.

An invisible, unseen hand that not only represses an expression of vulnerability, but likely leaves you with the indirect message that what you did was shameful.

Speaking for myself, when I see someone’s post about their mastectomy, their reconstruction or their decision to go flat (ie no reconstruction), I see someone who is willing to be brave, who is trying to make sense of what has happened to them, who is trying to express that breast cancer is not an awesome opportunity to get a “boob job” for free. I see someone who is seeking to connect with others, to share personally what they have been through, to show a different angle on beauty and strength. I see someone just like me, and it gives me comfort, hope, inspiration, and a sense that I am altered, yet I am worthy of love and affection.

I understand that if you are not a part of the breast cancer community, you might not understand the power of these images. However, I think we need to look very carefully at taking responsibility for our discomfort, rather than having a knee jerk reaction to censor what we don’t understand.

Censoring does not just apply to social media or large organizations- it happens in our most intimate relationships. The ways in which we hide ourselves because we see someone’s discomfort, fear or rejection of who we are or what we have been through. Or we worry that we will be rejected, so we preemptively do it to ourselves, for protection and preservation of the relationship.

Many cancer survivors have felt this, of someone turning away, disconnecting, or censoring who they are (or what they are willing listen to). Often this is driven by that person’s own fears, own uncertainty, own incapacitation that they don’t know what to do. However, if a relationship is truly going to stand the test of time- the test of adversity- the test of cancer, censorship can’t go on. It will eat away and destroy the fabric of the relationship.

Rather than getting caught up in our own personal whirlpool of uncertainty, of complication… what if you did one brave act- the act of starting the conversation. You don’t need to know all of the answers, you don’t need to solve the problem. What helps is the willingness to notice that something has changed and be willing to listen.

Overcoming censorship in our intimate relationships, the sort that keeps us hiding who we are and how we feel, is vital if we want to have deep intimacy with our loved ones. Just as spreading education, awareness and advocacy will hopefully impact the larger scale censorship that needlessly hurts a community that is trying to heal.

-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.