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.
None of us are perfect. We all have flaws and imperfections, some us more than others.
On our recent vacation to the beach, I was surprised one day when hundreds of shells washed up on the shore. Scouring through them, I picked up a gallon-sized bag of them. As I worked, I was careful to only pick up the perfect shells, while my husband was picking up ones that had nicks and cracks in them. As I noticed he kept on tossing in imperfect shells, it hit me. Seashells are symbolic of my life. While I seem strong and resilient on the outside, I’m really a little fragile and I’m a whole lot broken.
Today is the four-year anniversary of the day I received my diagnosis, and as I did on the day I received the news, I spent the day at the beach. The ocean and all that goes with it are special to me. They are a place where I can de-stress. Listening to the gentle roll of the waves, watching the seagulls soar, basking in the bright sunshine, those are like heaven to a hurting soul.
Four years ago, I didn’t know how to process the news of my cancer diagnosis, so I asked my husband to take me to the ocean, which was my “thinking place.” Gladly, he agreed it would be a good idea. We were both devastated and needed to get away to a quiet place to process everything. We loaded up the car and headed out. It would only be a short trip, a three-day weekend, as I had tests to complete at the hospital. On that trip, I said goodbye to my breasts in a symbolic way. In the sand, I inscribed the words, “Bye bye, boobies.” It may seem a silly thing to do, but it was something I needed to do.
I watched the waves wash up over the words I’d inscribed and erased them slowly. As the ocean removed my sentiment, I came to the realization that my life was about to change.
On this trip, I did something similar, but instead of inscribing a sad, heartfelt message, I wrote a powerful (albeit silly) message that said, “The Incredible Boobless Wonder.” As I worked to write the letters in the sand, my husband stood peering over my shoulders. He had no idea what I was writing. When he finally realized where I was going with my inscription, he laughed and so did I. It’s amazing how much difference a few years make. I realized I’d gotten better. Acceptance, while it does take time, does eventually come.
As I walked back from writing in the sand, I noticed the shells again. There were thousands of them! It was hard not to step on them because there were so many. Glancing down, I saw a lovely scallop shell. It was black, white and red. It wasn’t like the other scallops I’d picked up earlier. This shell wasn’t perfect. There was a piece of it broken along the top edge. Holding it in my hand, I realized, I, too, was broken. This shell wasn’t going to go in the bag with all the others. Tenderly, I slipped it in my pocket where it would be safe from more damage.
When we returned home from the beach, I took my broken shell and placed it on my mantle. I wanted a reminder of that special day and I wanted to remember that none of us are perfect.
Breast cancer scars and changes lives but so do many other life events. Some of the scars are visible and some are not.
Perfection is grossly overemphasized, I think. Accepting the flaws and faults in others is what makes each of us unique.
I love my broken shell and I’m going to display it with pride. On my next trip to the beach, I’m going to not only pick up the nicest shells, but also the ones that are a little scarred.