[This is dedicated to all of my feisty fighters, my sassy survivors, and my statistics smashers. Happy Breast Cancer Awareness Month, y’all! #takethetitsleavetheheart]
I used to see every blemish as an imperfection – a reminder that I was yet another day farther from my birth. I have always been a cautious person physically and maybe this is part of the reason. I never wanted to risk harming myself; altering myself. And no matter how popular, I never had a desire to get a tattoo either because I thought of it as defacing my skin – like an intentional scar. Why would I want to do that? I thought the goal of life was self-preservation for as long as possible.
Then I got a letter in the mail from an unlikely source (or so I thought).
A guy from Will’s research group in graduate school happened to be on Facebook the day I was handed my diagnosis. He posted something that I didn’t understand so I asked about it. He private messaged me and explained that he had recently gotten divorced. I had no idea. So, I made my confession, we commiserated, and expressed sympathy for each other’s plight despite having never engaged in more than pleasantries in the past. Crisis has a way of doing that.
A few weeks later, an envelope arrived in the mail from this same friend. There was a note instructing me to read the letter when I was having a bad day and needed a pick-me-up. I was already touched by our unlikely connection on Facebook, but I had no idea that the gift that was written in these pages would change my outlook on life forever.
It was the beginning of October and I was deep in a hole staring down a mastectomy while the world around me proudly bought pink tea kettles and slippers with smiles on their faces. Happy Breast Cancer Awareness Month! I felt anything but proud and happy. I felt dread and impending loss. So, I stared at the envelope for a couple of days until I couldn’t stand it anymore and I ripped it open in a fit of desperation.
Kintsukuroi (pronounced KEEN-TSOO-KOO-ROY), it said, was a process created in Japan in the 1500’s. It was a way of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer. I had never heard of such a thing before. He went on to explain that when trying to repair something that is broken, the pieces won’t fit back together perfectly. It will never be exactly as it was before. But by putting forth the effort to fix what was broken, it is now more beautiful, more valuable, and stronger.
More beautiful? More valuable? This philosophy went against everything I had ever felt about my body. What I thought of as defiling could actually be seen as beautifying!
Do you see the vertical scar on my chest? That was my initial lumpectomy. See the horizontal scar where my nipple should be? That’s from my mastectomy. And the jagged slash on my left forearm? That’s the result of a chemical burn from my first round of chemo. Those discolored blotches around my ear? Scars from my bout with shingles.
My friend closed his letter by sharing with me what he tells his children:
Life is fragile but it can also be resilient, and that’s what makes it beautiful. The obstacles, rejection, loss, and failure can make us stronger and more beautiful, like the pottery, for having been broken.
These words saved me the day I read them, and every day since. I stopped seeing myself as broken, defiled, or deteriorating. I stopped cursing what was happening to me. I stopped regretting the changes that were taking place, and I started seeing that I could in fact emerge new and improved.