Healing Self 0 comments on The art of toe dipping

The art of toe dipping

Did you feel the thrill of jumping right into the water when you were a kid? Of completely immersing yourself and playing underwater games, like having a tea party? The exuberance of being weightless as you splashed around? The freedom of trusting innately in your environment and the freedom of being so warm as a young person.

As an adult, are you less likely to just jump in without some form of preparation? Are you more wary of how the environment might impact you- the shock of the cold, the need to be mindful of others- especially if you are the adult responsible for children? Do you ease yourself in to respect the fact that your body needs time to adjust?

Or perhaps you avoid going in at all, which in the short run perhaps protects yourself from being cold yet also prevents you from experience the bliss of floating and feeling lighter than when you are on solid ground.

When you have been through something significant, like a cancer diagnosis and treatment, it can be overwhelming to imagine that you can wade through the thoughts and feelings that come along with the experience. You might perceive that the only options are to jump completely in, as you do not see a gentle way of easing in, and hope you can keep your head above water OR to avoid it all together.

It doesn’t help that the culture of the USA tends to have a mindset of all or nothing. Our propensity to live in the extremes, especially when it comes to our health and wellness, often sets us up for failure. And when we are faced with less tangible, less observable and unclear challenges, this dichotomy can become even more extreme.

Emotionally if you can identify a path or a map for healing as a cancer survivor, you can begin to break it down into pieces and parts that need to be addressed. This is why I developed the comprehensive self assessment form for survivorship, which you can access for free by clicking here.

Having a map is important, but in order to begin the journey you need to have the following lined up to support it:

  • a method or process for how you will travel from point A to B and beyond
  • an understanding of the support people you need to have in order to make it- often a blend of providers, family, friends and other cancer survivors that can get you the provisions you need (physical, emotional, spiritual, etc)
  • a compass that can help you find your way when you realize that your map did not have all destinations listed
  • provisions that will allow you to refuel yourself to support your resiliency
  • self awareness to support the undertaking- recognizing when you are ready to move and when you are needing to stop and rest
  • realistic expectations of how long it will take you

Learning to dip your toe into the emotional waters that surround cancer involves being patient, compassionate and understanding of yourself and your boundaries of when you are starting to feel overwhelmed. This is why using art can be such a powerful METHOD of traveling from point A to B, as the art happens through developing a deep connection to yourself and your experience. Check out what I wrote on the How art Helps page for more details on why.

I’m curious- if you were to imagine dipping your toe into the emotional waters that surround your cancer experience- where do you think you would begin? Feel free to share below or write me a private message!

-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 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 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 Self 0 comments on Let’s make space for the elephants

Let’s make space for the elephants

Elephants are such majestic creatures, and I suppose it is their size that made them a great metaphor for the discomfort that comes from ignoring the elephant in the room.

I’m tired of the elephants being ignored- it does not serve you or me, in fact, I spend a lot of my worklife talking about the deep pain that one has when the elephant is being ignored, unacknowledged, dismissed, devalued, diminished…

We all deserve to be included, especially the elephants- because often they represent our most vulnerable selves. Since cancer reminds you that no one has a guarantee as to how long you will be on this planet, you no longer tolerate neglecting yourself or avoiding hard conversations- because one day there won’t be any more opportunity to have them.

Yet making space to have them is a whole other ball of wax, because while you might be motivated to unleash those elephants- your loved ones might not be. Pushing the boundaries of taboo subjects is always challenging- and when you throw in the profound undercurrent of uncertainty that cancer brings- it can drive you or someone you love to avoid, repress, dismiss, etc. even more avidly than before.

My advice is to begin with an invitation- an invitation to acknowledge the elephant. It is normal to be anxious about breaking down and breaking through, and it may not go well. But if the energy is presented as an invitation, that may be gentle enough to calm the defense mechanisms to find a place to begin.

Pre-work is often vital to making a successful invitation, unpacking your own feelings about this elephant and how it has impacted your relationship. This is a great time to break out the art journal and reflective writing AND a great time to get support from a trusted friend, therapist, group. Not only is this excellent self care, self validation, and building self understanding, but it will help prevent you from roaring into the conversation like a lion, due to your own vulnerable feelings.

Here are some of the most prominent elephants out there, related to cancer:

  • facing the fear of dying, of being alone
  • changes in sexual functioning and intimacy
  • body image and self worth
  • feeling abandoned by our treatment team
  • feeling hurt by how our support system reacted to our cancer diagnosis, treatment, etc
  • fear of the future, fear of cancer recurrence and growth
  • separation and isolation- feeling left out of the “sea of normalcy”- especially when you are Stage 4

And so forth.

To invite the elephants in, you need to grow your capacity to be with your vulnerability, your ability to stand with life as it is, discerning when you need walls of protection AND when you don’t. Walls are important to have with people who are toxic. Yet they also serve to cut us off from being deeply connected to sources of love, compassion, connection. Developing the ability to discern who it is safe to let in, begins with developing a deep connection to yourself- so that you can trust your instinct about people you meet.

I leave you this week with a wonderful Ted Talk by Brené Brown on vulnerability.

-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 Self, Healing Spirit 0 comments on Reminder: put your nipples on

Reminder: put your nipples on

In just a few short days, my family and I will be flying to Spain, to see my husband’s family. As you might imagine, we are in the midst of the final push for getting ready- which means lots and lots of to-do lists. This time, I have an additional to do that was never there before- to put on my nipples.

As my breast cancer peeps can relate, this item is a crucial one towards feeling more like yourself again. There are many options- but I chose silicone, paste on nipples, after meeting Michelle- the owner and creator of Pink Perfect. She offers “ready to wear” nipples in every tone, shade, shape and size as well as custom made nipples for women who have a single mastectomy and wish to match their native nipple. I highly recommend her products!

It has been 11 years since we have gone back to Spain as a family, the last time we were there my oldest child was 5 months old. My mother-in-law was so proud, she fell in love with him and was so impressed by how rolly polly he was. She would exclaim to everyone one we came across that she knew (which feels like half the population of the small city that she lives in)- “SOLO TETA”. Solo teta translates to “just breast” in English- and in this case breast milk. She wanted everyone to understand that my body was fully responsible for creating such an exquisite child- and her praise made me laugh and smile at the same time.

It has been 20 years since my husband and I married in Spain, we were only 24 at the time. In those twenty years we have had a lifetime of experiences, we were caregiver to my mom before she died from metastatic breast cancer, both of our fathers have died, we created two children, we both obtained advanced degrees, I had cancer… it was never our intention to go so long between visits to Spain, but the curveballs kept coming and we had to keep recalibrating. Although we might have preferred a less tumultuous time line, we have nevertheless become more resilient for sticking through it together.

I have a feeling that this time, my mother-in-law will still be proud, and perhaps she will exclaim- No Tetas (no breasts) to everyone we pass, since that has changed since our last visit. If she does, I will celebrate right alongside her, with my paste on nipples and silicone boobs- because I am very lucky to have this chance to return again to a land I love. Something that could have been robbed from me had the cancer treatment not kicked cancer’s ass.

As I soak in this experience of a lifetime, the chance to be present with my husband and children as they encounter a major piece of their heritage, the chance to hug and kiss all of the wonderful family and friends we have there, the chance to return to my second home… I will be absorbing it with the deep appreciation for life that cancer has brought me, knowing that life can change on a dime.

This practice- of drinking in the moment with my body, mind, spirit, and self is something that we can all cultivate as an homage to the value of being alive. I wonder- what are your special moments and places (big or small) that bring you fully alive? I would love it if you would share them with me, either in the comments below or by email.

-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.