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A TGB READER STORY: The Lessons of Asymmetry

By Adele Frances

“There is little meaning in making a fuss. There is nothing else to do but say good-bye to the last body part and continue your life with what parts may be left.”

- Elderly Greenland native who lost two fingers to frostbite years ago. Smithsonian Magazine

I lost a breast three weeks ago. Well, I didn’t exactly lose it. The surgeon knows where it went, but it’s lost to me.

Can I function without it? Of course I can. Do I miss it? A little. But since it was harboring three cancerous tumors, the time had come to say goodbye. This breast did the same thing to me 22 years ago and I struggled to keep it with me despite its disloyalty.

Lumpectomy. Chemo. Radiation. It was not a fun time but I got thru it nicely and my life continued cancer-free with two boobs, one slightly smaller than the other, from the ravages of treatment. I even wrote bad poetry about it.

But now, at 74, I’ve had to part company with this valiant breast who hung in there for over two decades before going rogue again.

Instead, I have a 10-inch scar from my left armpit to the center of my chest, a gradually descending line with a few bumps and curves that has a character all of its own. And instead of holding my breast in my hand, I feel a flat plain and a steadily beating heart beneath it, now unprotected by the shelf of flesh that used to be there.

It is strange and wondrous to me. I don’t find it grotesque, but rather curious in its lack of symmetry. And the tiny bit of swelling at the bottom looks like a prepubescent breast getting ready to bloom, but — oops — no nipple! A strange appendage indeed.

Yes, it’s the lack of symmetry that causes me pause for thought. Since I don’t have the magic bra lady in my life yet who is going to even me up, I’ve been adjusting old bras to resemble my former look, but I’m not there yet.

I like asymmetry in my art; I do not favor it in my personal appearance. There is an alien look to a blouse that is gently rounded on one side and just FLAT on the other. Nature prefers harmony, balance. And so do I.

So I look forward to my meeting next week with the bra lady who will introduce me to the wonderful world of prosthetics and new bras I never imagined. She told me the insurance company will provide four bras and two prosthetics a year! I’ve never bought four bras in one year in my life. That would last me five years. I’m in for a bounty of riches.

Thus I have to agree with the Greenland elder. I can go on quite nicely with my life minus one boob. Its removal has prolonged my life a few more years and there is something to be said for that, though I’m not quite sure what, not being a proponent of longevity.

But a flat chest, even if only on one side, somehow takes me back to childhood before those long-awaited mounds which never seemed to arrive. There is an innocence there among the scarred landscape that reminds me of my 11-year-old granddaughter just beginning to sprout her own breasts and sporting her first bra.

Missing body parts. Asymmetry. All part of the mystery of my life. But the good part is that when I place my hand on my heart, it beats so much louder now.


I have such an emotional connection to your story, Adele, despite not sharing your experience first-hand. Your observations and words are so powerful. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. May your journey forward include many more "wondrous" moments. Your final sentence is everything!

Superb attitude and well-described personal experience with a good quote to set us reading.
This will hang around my head all day, I'm thinking.
Thank you!

Wonderful way to make your lost body part more than just that...I love the description of "going rogue again".....so glad you are adjusting well and getting what you want, symmetry via a prosthetic. I enjoyed reading this.

I had a hip replacement 3 months ago and prior, did an art piece with a doll's leg separated from its body just because it was on my mind.
So I said goodbye to my right hip joint, with bone spurs, and got a ceramic ball, covered
in titanium that swivels, and is attached to a titanium spike that goes down the inside of my thigh bone. yes, inside it. Guess we are lucky to live in these times of medical magic.

What a lovely and thoughtful story. Yes, we are certainly more than our parts, and even cannot be identified as just one of them...though my head and my brain want to tell me they are in charge, but I know better. Enjoy the asymmetrical aspect of your chest...it does sound worth a bit of art! And what fun to have new bras!

I love your last sentence. Beautiful writing! Enjoy the days of life ahead that this lost has awarded you — but with your attitude, no one has to tell you this!

Love and appreciate your attitude. A lumpectomy four years ago left me a bit lopsided too. I'm hoping that was the last I'll see of cancer, but it's insidious. One never knows. At least if it returns, I'll have all those free bras to look forward to.

Simone said it for me. I admire two things - your wonderful attitude and your marvelous ability to write about it so well.

Just wonderful!

Life is all about loses isn’t it. Thank you for your inspired writing.

Your post moved me in so many ways. Your courage, sense of humor, persistence and beautiful writing will stay with me, especially as I face my own surgery soon.

My missing parts are, so far, all on the inside. I hope I have even a shred of your grace should I ever need to give up a part on the outside. And, I, too, love your last sentence. You are a writer!

A beautifully written story about something that affects so many of us!

Might you consider a tattoo that transforms that scar into a work of art?

I have 4 tattoos (all designed by my artist husband), having gotten my first at age 62. My grandchildren think I'm really cool. Not so much my children, but I love it when I ruffle their feathers for a change. I'd get another one, but I'm about to turn 74 and not sure my skin could withstand it.

Adele, it will be 20 yrs. ago in October that I had my lumpectomy, chemo, and radiation, followed 10 yrs. later with having my cancerous kidney removed. I truly relate to your writing today and love your way of thinking. I always call myself "lopsided," but I like the same old me with a much more interesting physical road map. I think people may look not at our bodies as much as our glowing faces. We have a lot to be grateful for. I know so many relatives and friends who haven't beat cancer. Aren't we fortunate? Warmest wishes.

What wonderful, honest and humorous perspective you have! May your heart continue to "beat more loudly" for many years to come! Thanks!

Not sure that I'd have gone ahead with surgery at the age of nearly-83, especially given the presence of several other physical deterioration issues, but thank you for describing your experience so artfully. May you be cancer-free the rest of your life, and best of luck with the bra lady.

Wonderful post. Personally I wish I had never wanted larger breasts, gravity has taken its toll. I cannot find a bra to fit! Sure have left a couple ladies laughing at my frustration.

Endless thanks to all readers of my guest essay, and thanks to Ronni for publishing it. I am deeply touched by all your reactions and am reminded once again how important human connection is to this whole business of getting on with our lives. You have greatly enriched mine with your honesty and warm observations.
Blessings, Adele Frances

Beautifully written! And what a positive and resilient attitude you've shared. May you greatly enjoy the luxury and bounty of those four bras in one year!

I solved the uneven problem following a mastectomy by filling the empty side of my bra with a perfect sized shoulder pad I took from an old dress I had from the days of Big Shoulders. Easy to wash and very comfortable : )

Clever girl! I did the same thing for an old bathing suit, and it works just fine...

Beautiful text, beautiful sense of humour. Beautiful, brave Woman!

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