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After Cancer: The Beautiful Broken

Healing from breast cancer is difficult, but sometimes the changes are worthwhile.
PUBLISHED October 18, 2016
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
Years ago, I was given a family heirloom, a pottery vase. I loved it because it was special to my grandmother. One day, my young daughter was playing with a ball and broke the vase. She was devastated and I was heartbroken.  

Days passed and the broken vase lay unattended. Slowly and carefully, I worked on fitting the pieces together. Gluing the tiny pieces in place was difficult. Holding the vase in my hands, I knew it would never again hold water.  

Immediately after surgery to remove my breast cancer, I realized my body was broken, too. I was reminded of the vase and shattered pieces. I felt like my life was falling apart. Instead of having pieces to fit together again, some were missing. My breasts were gone. In their place was an ugly scar. I was never going to be the same.  

As I compared my memory of the broken vase with my newly broken body, I recalled a childhood story about a Japanese man. He’d found a large, intricate tea jar. Pleased with his find, he invited a famous tea connoisseur to join his friends for a tea ceremony. He wanted to show off the beautiful jar. When he served the tea, the honored guest paid no attention to the beautiful vessel. Once his guest left, the Japanese man threw the jar against a wall, shattering it. His friends gathered the fragments and took them to repair. They used gold lacquer as they worked. After the jar was restored, the friends gathered for another tea ceremony. The connoisseur saw the patched jar and exclaimed the piece was magnificent.  

Kintsugi, an ancient Japanese art, translates to “patch with gold.” Kintsugi artists mend broken pieces of pottery using gold lacquer. This makes the pieces striking and unique. The art of Kintsugi rests on the premise that vessels are stronger and more stunning because they have been made whole from brokenness.  

Breast cancer decimated my body. It was no longer beautiful. I felt so unlovely. I didn’t know if my life would ever be worthwhile again. As time went on, breast cancer helped me realize a valuable lesson. Breaking isn't something we intend to happen. When breaking occurs, we can let the brokenness make us bitter or better. We can choose to throw away the pieces or repair them. It's our choice. If we choose to fit the pieces back together again, scars become part of the story of a damaged but restored life. This is a lesson I am learning now. While I can't fit the pieces of my life together again, I can allow the scars to remind me of everything I've experienced. They are evidence of the fact that I am still living and fighting. Just like the mended pottery, my brokenness can be made beautiful if I let the gold of complete healing fill the cracks. Though very different than before, I can be magnificent. 
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