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.
Learning to accept the physical changes breast cancer creates is often difficult, but doable. It takes time to learn to embrace change but doing so is beneficial to well being.
Standing naked before the mirror, I look at my body. I'm not sure I like what I see. Along with the unexpected pounds that have attached themselves to my hips over the years, I also see evidence that time marches on. Wrinkles have etched my face. No longer am I youthful and pert.
My eyes fixate upon my torso. As I look, I could choose to be overcome with self-pity and loathing. I've traveled that path before. But instead of allowing my scarred and disfigured body to dictate how I think, I choose to look through a different lens. Instead of seeing what I lack, I need to focus on what I've gained. It's a difficult choice. It's one I must make on a daily basis. If I don't, I won't survive.
Breast cancer didn't take my breasts. I made the choice to give them so I could live. I could have opted to have pieces and parts lopped off until all of the cancer was removed, but I didn't go that route. I didn't know if I could handle it.
When the breast surgeon presented my choices, I was told I could have a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and then radiation. If I chose that route, I'd have to have diagnostic mammograms every three months and may eventually need a mastectomy. The second option was to have a mastectomy and then go through treatment. No longer would I need mammograms because I wouldn't have my breasts. It was a difficult choice to make. Looking back, I wish I'd taken more time to weigh my options, but I've never been one to dilly dally. I wanted the cancer out of my body as quickly as possible. I chose the mastectomy. Not only did I choose to have my cancerous breast removed, I also chose to have my healthy breast removed. I didn't want to live my life in constant worry thinking that one day, cancer would attack my healthy breast and I'd need to begin the process all over again.
The long, horizontal scar is a constant reminder of what cancer took away from me. But as I look at it, I'm also reminded of what it has given. Cancer has given me a newfound strength and resolve. Although I didn't choose it, it was thrust upon me. I had to learn to dig deep. I had to learn to fight. And in so doing, I found that I was braver than I ever thought possible.
It's taken almost three years to finally learn that I'm not less than. Yes, I have missing body parts, but they didn't define me. Breasts are not an integral part of my being. They are, and please don't misunderstand me when I say this, mere adornments. They show the world, on the outside, I am a woman. And while they were functional, built with the specific ability to nourish my babies, I honestly don't miss them now.
In the beginning, immediately after surgery, I was devastated. I felt ugly and broken. But thankfully, those feelings have passed.
My reflection in the mirror tells me I am alive. What more could I ask? The alternative would be more than life altering.
Each of us have our own body image issues. Some things are within our control and some are not. But does the outer shell of our being really matter? I think not. The inner being is the essence of who we are and no matter what maims or scars the outside of us, nothing can touch our soul unless we let it.
I can honestly say I am thankful for my experience with breast cancer. It has taught me to love myself and to accept myself exactly as I am. Sure, I won't win any beauty contests and that's OK. I'm here. I'm alive. And I've extremely grateful.