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 via Creativity 0 comments on What is the magic that I teach? ESP (and no, it’s not the psychic kind)

What is the magic that I teach? ESP (and no, it’s not the psychic kind)

I have been working on this project, something that I hope to announce to you in the nearish future. I mention it now, because that work keeps me reflecting upon why what I do has such an impact for my clients. This reflection speaks to the power of art and creativity for healing, and as I thought about why, the letters ESP came to mind.

What does ESP stand for?

  • Express
  • Soothe
  • Process

Unpacking the cancer leftovers is a big job and often you do what you can to manage it. Often you tuck aside (or rather, inside) the life altering moments that continuously crash into you as you keep your head above water. Yet despite your best efforts, at some point you are either too saturated or reminded by being triggered, and it starts to tumble on out.

Very uncomfortable for most of us! Yet these are the stories that must be told so that you can begin to release what you have been holding onto out of survival.

How does E.S.P. work together?

Express

When you start to unpack the stories, you might experience it as that closet you have been jamming all those things you don’t have anywhere else to put. It is something that at any moment the delicate balance of each part working together can be disrupted, and all of the sudden an avalanche occurs and it spills out everywhere.

OR

The process of tucking things aside has started to numb or freeze those thoughts and feelings- but you have become such a champ at shutting them down, the freezer has gone Awol and has frozen your ability to feel and think about the things you want to experience. And you fear that the defrost cycle will be too intense.

SO

You look to art and creativity to begin to express what you see, and the more comfortable you become with the process, you begin to find ways to re-organize or unfreeze these thoughts, feelings, and experiences so that you can process them with less overwhelm.

Soothe

As you begin to express yourself, you begin to develop ways of responding, not reacting, to what is coming forth. Using art/creativity supports you in engaging your creative problem solving skills, because unlike the mind (which may have an agenda), the art is speaking for this part of you that has been shut down or shoved aside.

The art leads you to contemplate what you need in that moment, which is often some form of soothing- or validation- of what you have been through. When you choose to soothe or validate your experience, your nervous system can relax- slowing down the need for fighting or fleeing.

Process

Once you have expressed and soothed yourself, you can begin the last and most juicy step that everyone wants- the repacking of the suitcase. This repacking is WAY more intentional- it is not a reaction, it is a response. It is where you make meaning out of your experience, it is where you feel more empowered to choose how it informs who you have become.  This helps you to integrate this part of your life story back into your identity, which recalibrates it to allow for you to not always have it dominating your world.

What does it look like if you’re only doing one or two of them, but not practicing the sacred trine?

If you get stuck in expression, you will likely feel like things are always falling apart, with no end in sight. You will likely feel exhausted.

If you get stuck in soothing, you will likely be stuck with habits that temporarily numb you, but have a high cost to your health and wellbeing over time. You will likely feel dependent.

If you get stuck in processing, you will likely feel like you are stuck in rumination, always coming to the same dead end because you have not really unpacked what happened or nurtured yourself. Rather you have started to read at the final chapter of the story, hoping that all of your questions will be answered.

This is why emotional healing must include the sacred trine, because after all cancer has taken enough from you. While this might not be a lesson in becoming a psychic, the insight you will gain from regularly practicing this trine via creativity and art- the more you will feel like one!

Do you want to start talking with others who are also looking to develop their powers of E.S.P? Request to join my private FB group- Creating Connections with Creative Transformations, by clicking here. We’d love to have you!

-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, Healing via Creativity 0 comments on The Cancer Family Tree

The Cancer Family Tree

In May, I had the chance to work on an art piece that explores both my immediate family cancer history and the sisterhood/brotherhood that is formed between all cancer warriors.  This interconnection is so powerful yet so bittersweet, because it asks us to not only face our own mortality, but the mortality of those we know and love.

One of the hardest aspects to face is a sense of survivor guilt.  In fact, independent of the severity of someone’s cancer, if you ask someone how they are doing they will almost always relay some way in which they have it easier than others who have cancer.  This humility is often at the core of empathy yet may also be a signal that survivor guilt is present.

While the presence of survivor guilt is a very natural response, it is important to be mindful of how much impact it is having on those who feel it.  If it is triggering a desire to isolate or withdraw, then it is imperative to seek out someone who can help you work through it.

When I made the original cast pictured below, I felt a release of something important, but at the time I could not express myself.  Earlier this week, I realized it was time to re-visit the cast to learn what it wished to tell me.

I leave you today with the poem that arose as I sat quietly with the cast.

The Cancer Family Tree

Our story is not unique

The pattern repeats itself over and over

The cancer code crawls through the family tree

Sparing some, taking others

Living with the possibility

You are next on its target list

 

Her story is not unique

The pattern repeats itself over and over

She had cancer once, and then it came back

Her valiant efforts were not enough

To stop it in its tracks

 

My story is not unique

The pattern repeats itself over and over

14 years after burying my mother

The doctor called to say “You have cancer”

A bittersweet moment of deep inter-generational connection

Walking in her shoes, this time from the perspective of daughter and mother

 

Our story is not unique

The pattern repeats itself over and over

The sisterhood and brotherhood of cancer warriors

Binds us tightly together

And while our story may be common

EACH ONE OF US IS UNIQUE

For the effect cancer has on our lives

Intimately impacts us in deeply personal ways

From my heart to yours, Namasté.

– 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, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

 

Healing Body, Healing via Creativity 0 comments on Chilling with your cells thru art and meditation

Chilling with your cells thru art and meditation

When I was diagnosed with cancer, someone recommended the book, The Biology of Belief, by Bruce Lipton, PhD, a stem cell biologist who writes about the connection between science and spirit.  The premise of the book is that our beliefs impact us at a cellular level, meaning that cells under the microscope look different depending upon the context of the environment- ie happier or relaxed environments cause the cells to respond in kind, whereas a stressful environment causes the cells to go into a protection mode.  Dr. Lipton states that this happens because our cells are in essence mini humans.

Whether or not you can get behind this theory, I do think that it is at minimum an interesting way to think about our insides.  When you have been diagnosed with cancer, it is quite natural to fear what is happening inside of your body, and as a result we need to find ways to support ourselves through it.

Vipassana meditation is a form of meditation in which we actively observe the deep interconnection of the body and mind.  Using this style of meditation, we ask ourselves to find and follow a focal point, which I applied to my technique of cellular meditation.

Before we look at cellular meditation, let’s consider how it may be of use when you have cancer:

  • To cope with chemotherapy– chemo often stirs a lot of anxiety for people, after all it is a toxin which we are actively choosing to put into our body.  Sitting in the infusion chair is a tremendously brave act.  When you use cellular meditation, it can help with the transition into the chair and into the treatment, talking to yourself at the cellular level with soothing messages as well as envisioning the chemo being really successful at killing those cancer cells.
  • To cope with blood draws, scans, and tests– cancer causes a lot of scanxiety- the anxiety that comes with diagnostic testing.  Yet we must find a way to move through it with as much ease as we can find.
  • Recurrence fears– as cancer reminds us, we only have so much control over the outcome of our lives. If we are suffering with fears of recurrence, it’s important to check in with our oncs to see if our symptoms are requiring attention. And, we can help tolerate that process through cellular meditation.
  • To bring peacefulness and joy– during and following cancer treatment, we have to be realistic with how our bodies and minds are doing at any given moment.  Often this means that we need to tap into patience and decrease fear that we will never be the same again.  Focusing our cellular meditation on peacefulness and joy can bring a calm to the storm.

A cellular meditation involves taking a few simple steps, which can be applied in a number of ways:

  1. Withdrawing our attention from the outside to the inside, through softening our gaze or closing our eyes.
  2. Connecting to our breath- by taking breaths that travel all the way into your belly before expanding into your chest (placing a hand on your belly helps to increase awareness of this action).
  3. With your minds eye (ie attention) travel down from the top of your head into the core.
  4. Take a moment to observe what you find.
  5. Set an intention of the environment you wish to bathe your cells in, let it become the focal point for a period of time until you begin to feel the effect it is having on your system.
  6. As you notice a shift, begin to see how that impacts your internal environment, your cells, returning to your intention as needed or desired.
  7. Before ending your session, take a moment to notice how you are feeling now.

Meditations don’t need to happen always from a seated posture, here are some other ways to enjoy a cellular meditation:

  • Through art– Dr. Lipton described the cells thru the microscope, which brought to my mind the idea of using a mandala to meditate on my cells.  A mandala is a circle that is drawn on paper, in which one draws, and it is used by Buddhist monks for healing.  Imagine that the circle is a microscope that is looking inside at your cells.  Follow the above flow for cellular meditation using whatever are supplies you have on hand to represent each step- here is an example of one I did for this blog.
  • Through yoga– the practice of yoga already asks us to go inside and connect with our bodies.  If you select a more slower and gentler style, such as Hatha, it is possible to do the cellular meditation right on the mat.
  • Through music– have you ever tried listening to music with your whole body, including your cells?  It is quite an experience- you might even create a play list that takes you through different genres and feelings, ending in the final place you wish to reach.
  • Through nature– this one is most successful if we imagine the qualities of nature that we enjoy to flow from the outside into our insides, into our cells.  Whether you are walking, running or resting, this is a lovely exercise to try!

From my cells to yours, I hope that you find bliss through this practice!  Namasté.

– 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, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing via Creativity 0 comments on The healing power of poetry

The healing power of poetry

Have you ever noticed how poetry has the ability to cut to the chase, diving directly and deeply into its subject matter?  One of the books I have still from grad school, The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing, subtitled the chapter on poetry and autobiographical writing as “something hatches”.  A remarkably simple phrase that truly captures the sensation we have when our poetry captures our experience.

Even if you do not have much experience writing poetry, there are a few simple “tricks of the trade” that I find makes it accessible for everyone to use.  For me, I personally find it the easiest to connect to my inner scribe after making art.  If you want to experiment with that idea, this post Healing through art and writing, can help you find a place to start.

Here are some ways to get started:

  • Practice free writing– i.e. setting a timer (start with something shorter- 5 or 10 minutes) and write whatever comes to mind, without concern for spelling or punctuation.  When you are finished, go back through and select words or phrases that appeal to you, and see if they can combine into a poem or be the kick off point for getting one started
  • Free writing with focus– this is very similar, but involves first tapping into an experience that you wish to explore through writing.  One very powerful example is getting in touch with what it was liked to be diagnosed.  Once you feel that you are in touch with the experience you have selected, follow the instructions above for free writing. For a little more guidance on getting into that frame of mind, check out the FB Live video I did with CancerGrad.
  • Try Ransom Note Poetry.  This was one of my favorite directives from grad school.  It does involve a little prep work, which is having on hand a large variety of words that are cut our from newspapers and magazines.  This can be an awesome task for when you are feeling tired and are sitting down.  Over time, you will collect a lovely little stash.  Once you have a nice collection, take a few minutes to connect to yourself, and then mull through them- selecting words that seem to call your attention.  Once you have some, play around with how they might work together, and allow your instinct to find the words that you might need to add to complete your piece.  Collage them together and/or write them down somewhere so that you can toss them back into your box.

Some of us feel drawn to the structured form of the haiku, sonnet or limerick; whereas others might prefer a free verse style that has less rules and form.  Learning to tune into ourselves and our experience helps us determine which form we might want to use on any given day.

Not only does following our creative intuition build our creative muscle, but it also comes with the added bonus of re-building a trusting relationship with our instinct once again, something that often suffers when we face cancer.  My post about self-confidence and cancer unpacks why this happens, clear here to read more.

When we connect to our creative instinct and act upon it, we are subtly working on re-building our self confidence, while receiving the gift of time and attention to the unsettled parts of our life story.  When we capture our experience in words (or whatever art form speaks to you), we are validating our experience.  Through validation from self and others, we begin the process of releasing our pain and integrating and reclaiming our identity.

– 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, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.