It’s a funny thing the internet. For most of us, life without internet is unimaginable now. It can separate us, with couples and families focused on screens and devices and not seeing each other. It can also bring us together as is evident by the strong online community such as our breast cancer social media community. And it can bring learning and knowledge into our lives which we might well otherwise have never known.
Such a thing happened this morning. While skimming news and updates on Facebook I saw a status update and snippet which instantly resonated.
This was a simple picture, of a delicate bowl with veins of gold through it along with a word and its definition. The word was completely new to me – kintsukorai. It’s definition was incredibly powerful. It is the art of repairing broken pottery with gold, so that the item becomes more beautiful through having been broken. This is popularly attributed to a fable which is told here.
It does not take a great leap of thought to apply this to ourselves. As we live through experiences which challenge and threaten to destroy us, how are we when we emerge? In particular, this resonated with me in its relation to a cancer diagnosis.
The instant that the bowl drops and smashes, is just like that moment when you hear those unforgettable words and learn that you have cancer. Everything which is precious and sure, suddenly shatters and it feels impossible that it could ever be mended. The hideous different types of treatment continue to break the bowl into smaller fragments. But as we struggle physically, there is a gold thread which emerges with gradual repair.
I have constant reminders of the damage inflicted on my body from the immediate treatments and from continued medication. I have to be frank. I feel aggrieved by that which has been damaged or stolen by cancer. Constrained mobility thanks to joint pain, weight gain despite regular exercise, reduced energy, lungs which have been damaged by the embolism, and blood levels which require regular monitoring to ensure that I am in a “safe zone” which is neither to likely to clot nor too likely to haemorrhage. There is pain and physical deformation from surgery and treatment. The broken pieces are many.
Yet there is a less tangible element. This gold thread is one of resilience, inner determination, the will and need to focus on that which is important. The idea of kintsukuroi and that through damage, an entity of greater beauty than the original is crafted.
From my own experience and perspective, the gold thread is less tangible or visible but I do not need to look far to know it is there.
I feel it in the resilience I have built.
I know it is there in the daily impetus to rise early in the morning and swim and cycle
I hear it in the words my doctor says when he reassures me that I am doing well, and should not be so hard on myself
I create in the reviewed priorities, and techniques like the three words and five sticky plan
I sense it in a determination which I did not realise I could muster
Most of all, I feel it in the way I try and live in a way which I would call “intentional”. Taking control of what I can, what is in my hands and ensuring balance and living deliberately. Trying to accept the cracks of damage, and constraints which impact on daily life.
I have to look to see the gold thread and it is clear to me that my post diagnosis self is somewhat stronger and more purposeful. The gold thread holds me together and moreover inspires me, no matter what the future holds.
The reality is that after cancer enters your life, you can never return to the way you were just as the pieces of a broken bowl can not be put exactly together without evident scars. If the damage is less perhaps a repair is less visible. This inspires us to acknowledge and even perhaps appreciate our scars and try not to hide the signs of how our minds and bodies have been ravaged.