Tiffany Mannino is back to share yet another of her diary entries penned to her unborn daughter Lola during her breast cancer journey. She has entitled the letters ‘Beautifully Broken: Letters From a Girl/Woman/Human in Progress’ as she reflects on her five year journey with letting go of the past, facing fears, learning to love, finding happiness in the moment, and realizing that she is exactly where she is supposed to be in life.
Oh baby…I am so tired the computer screen is looking fuzzy, however, a few moments ago, I had this compulsion to write to you rather than crawl into bed. After nine months of being on sabbatical, I have finally gone back to work to start a new school year. I wish I could tell you the transition was easy, but the last few weeks have been grueling. I have been an emotional wreck having meltdowns on a daily basis. The best way that I can describe my state is that I feel like a beached horseshoe crab that has been flipped on its back and can’t seem to turn over. It squirms with the scorching sun beating down on its parched shell. The strangest part of this all is that as difficult as this change is for me, deep in my heart I know that I am going to come out of this a better soul. Like a molting horseshoe crab, I feel like I am shedding my old self and beginning a new.
What truly prompted me to write to you was the strange person I saw in the mirror when I got out of the shower this evening. Standing there naked, I had to do a double take. Who was this woman looking at me? Was she even a woman? She looked more like a gladiator. There I was. A warrior with battle scars to prove it. I counted them. I had five scars from surgery; two on my breasts, two on my ovaries, and one on my neck, six tattoos from radiation, a new silvery blonde crew cut, streams of mascara running down my face from apparently not washing my makeup off too well, and to complete the picture, a slight stream of blood running down my thigh from shaving the new hairs growing back on my legs. Yep. I was a warrior alright. This warped version of myself somehow made me smile. “Look at you, you tough girl. You can do this. You most certainly CAN do this. Look how far you have come in the last nine months. This is nothing compared to what you’ve already done. So get up girl, and do it. Fight like a girl.”
I can’t tell you I feel pretty now. I can’t tell you I love my new colorless hair or my body filled with scars, but I can tell you this. Looking at myself right now makes me proud. I feel strong. I feel like these marks are a reminder of the endurance and perseverance I needed to not only survive but thrive through this journey.
***Ironically, a few months after writing this, I happened to read an article on animal symbolism. The horseshoe crab often represents womanhood, femininity, starting over, and regeneration. How appropriate for a breast cancer survivor who is learning to accept and honor the journey that is unfolding and the woman she is becoming.
Tiffany Mannino is an elementary school teacher, world traveler, Zumba freak, and young breast cancer survivor who lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She has found that expressing her emotions through writing and painting has helped her deal with facing cancer at a young age and has brought her profound healing. Several of her writing pieces have been featured in books including the Chicken Soup for the Soul Series.