Cancer causes changes, but it doesn't change identity.
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.
This past week, I was blessed to have time with two of my grandchildren. Their other set of grandparents wanted to bless us as they traveled cross country. Since we only get to see them once a year, it was a wonderful gift of love.
The week was filled with electric energy as our home, usually quiet and serene, changed to a hub of activity. Short adventures were planned and each new day was filled with wonder. At the zoo, we watched as exhibits brought excitement and curiosity. The county fair came with cotton candy, games, rides and so much laughter. Parks, picnics, and playing in water fountains at the Splash Pad reminded me of so many things we take for granted. Seeing every moment through the eyes of a child was priceless.
One evening, the kids wanted to watch a movie. The only kid friendly DVD we had on hand was "Jingle All the Way." It's a Christmas-themed movie, but they didn't mind. How fun it was to hear their peals of laughter as the story line unfolded. They enjoyed hot, buttery popcorn as they snuggled up in cozy blankets. In the end, the good guy wins and all is well. Thanks, Turbo Man!
Early the next morning, over bowls of cereal, we chatted about various things. I loved hearing their hearts and answering their questions. Throughout the day, I'd hear a constant, "Gigi, look at this” or “Gigi, why is...?" What an honor to feel so loved. I was thankful they wanted to converse with me. It was amazing to have them look up to me and value my opinion.
While they were here, I wore my prostheses. I didn't know how much they understood about my bout with breast cancer, and thought it best to avoid touching on that subject in case they hadn't been told. We were constantly on the go, so I never had to worry much about the subject coming up, or so I thought.
One day, I forgot to put my boobs on. When my granddaughter came up to give me a hug, she said, "Gigi, what happened to your chest?" I guess she noticed I wasn't as soft and squishy as I'd been on previous days. I tried to find words to skirt around breast cancer, but still respond in a way an eight-year-old mind could understand. It wasn't easy, but I explained I'd been very sick and had to have an operation. That answer seemed to appease her and thankfully, the topic was never broached again. Children are naturally curious. I knew that. If I'd thought ahead, I could have prepared a better answer. Shame on me for forgetting to wear my prostheses that day.
On Instagram, I saw a meme that said, "Cancer is life-altering, but not defining." I thought long and hard about that saying. It was very true in my case. Cancer had turned my world upside down and inside out, but I didn't have to let it define me. For the past couple of years, I'd accepted the fact that cancer had stolen my femininity. Once I'd accepted my appearance, I decided I need to redefine myself, and I came up with the superhero name, "The Incredible Boobless Wonder." Giving myself superhero qualities of being able to survive in a world full of voluptuous women as a flat chested, brave fighter made me feel pretty good. My self-esteem rose whenever I looked in the mirror and imagined “IBW” emblazoned on my chest in brilliant ruby letters. No one knew my secret identity.
As we were watching "Jingle All the Way," I couldn't help but snicker. Turbo Man, with his ability to fly and combat evil, had nothing on me. Sure, I wished I had real super abilities; who wouldn't like to fly? But I was happy to know I'd given myself permission to feel good about being alive. Overcoming breast cancer was a pretty big deal. Yes, cancer had totally changed my life. I knew I would never be the same again, but really, I didn't want to be. If not for cancer, I wouldn't have learned many valuable life lessons. I'd tucked them safely under my belt. I didn't have to let cancer define me. In fact, I was happy to be the "Incredible Boobless Wonder."
Looking at my grandchildren, I realized that I wanted a better future for them. I wanted a cure for breast cancer. I silently prayed neither of them would ever experience the trauma of cancer.
Children’s minds are always seeking answers. They always seem to be filled with hope. After watching the movie with them, I knew I needed to write a children's book about overcoming breast cancer. I was going to use my superhero identity to explain this nasty disease on a child's level. So, coming soon, to a super center near you, will be an awesome story about a valiant warrior and her adventures as the "Incredible Boobless Wonder." Thanks Turbo Man for giving me a vision, and in the words of Spiderman, "I believe there's a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble and finally allows us to die with pride ..."