Asymmetry, Grief and Love

When I look at my naked body in the mirror, I cry.

For days, I’ve been trying to write this post, but I can’t seem to get past that first line. Where do I start? How do I attempt to unravel the layers of emotion that have formed over these past couple of weeks since my second surgery?

Let me start with some facts: The surgery successfully addressed what turned out to be a seroma, not a hematoma. (As far as I understand, the main difference between the two is that a seroma is essentially a collection of clear fluid whereas a hematoma involves blood. Both can apparently lead to Dolly Parton sized breasts.)

Recovery was, as expected, quicker and easier with this surgery than with my mastectomy. I was up and about after the first week. Unfortunately, because of the seroma, I needed a drain. If you’ve never had a drain, trust me, you don’t want one. I forgot to take a picture of my own drain, so I scrolled the internet to give those who’ve never seen one an image of what I walked around with for the last couple of weeks (and for three weeks after my first surgery).

drainMy drain was attached to my bra with a safety pin not this nifty looking eyelet. The long tube that disappears under the bra is inserted into the skin. Then, every day, I (and by “I” I mean Josh, because he usually did it) got to empty and measure the fluid like this (though my fluid was less blood red and more serus):

empty drain

Today was a good day because, after two weeks, I finally got the damn thing out, which means I no longer have to walk around with a plastic tube and container attached to my body, collecting fluid from my wound. Bulky and gross and a great way to feel like a sick person.

As for what else I hoped to accomplish with this unexpected surgery—symmetry and a regained level of comfort in my body—that did not come to fruition. My reconstructed breast (and nipple) is now noticeably smaller than my healthy breast. That, coupled with the physical scars, makes me… well, it makes me cry. I feel ravaged, ugly, older than my years (the post-chemo gray hair isn’t helping); and every time I look in the mirror, I am reminded of what I’ve lost and what I’ve been through and what lurks on the horizon as my new, biggest fear (recurrence, metastasis, telling my children I have a cancer again, missing out on all the things I don’t want to miss in their lives).

But here is the amazing thing: Despite all this— the disappointment, the self-consciousness, the crying, the fear—I generally feel happy.

Growing up, when I was having a hard time about something, my mom would say, “Go somewhere else on the canvas.” Meaning life is like a giant canvas, with, say, one group of friends in one little corner, an aspect of work in another, a particular family member somewhere else, an aching back up top, cancer down below; and that whatever the pieces of our lives might be, there are, for most of us, many of them. When one piece of the canvas bogs us down, it doesn’t mean the entire canvas has to go down with it; we can move our attention elsewhere. For the most part, this is easier said then done for me, but by some miracle, the grief I feel these days in my moments of crying is confined to those moments of crying.


This morning, I crawled into bed after my follow-up with my surgeon and had another tear-fest. I cried for all the reasons I’ve shared, and because I now need to decide whether I’m going to have yet another surgery, purely elective this time, to achieve some symmetry. There is no rush to this decision, but it weighs on me with the same guilt and shame that weighed on me when I had to decide about reconstruction. I feel ashamed by the thought of choosing a surgery I don’t need to “fix” something I don’t like about my body. Why stop with my reconstructed breast? Why not suck some of the fat out of the saddlebags I’ve always wished away? Why not erase the bags under my eyes? Tighten up my knees, which I’ve always found a bit saggy? Certainly these are choices that many people make, but they are not choices I ever thought I would make. Yet here I am considering what feels like a similar kind of choice, and it weighs on me. I would never, ever begrudge another woman for choosing reconstruction after enduring the traumatic loss of a breast, but I am struggling to find that same compassion and understanding for myself.

Time to go somewhere else on the canvas. I think I’ll linger for awhile in the fact that I am more in love with Josh than ever before, and that to feel that way after 15 years is incredible. Josh, who lies down with me in the middle of the day and tells me, while I cry, that he wants me to feel whatever I’m feeling, but then to remind myself that we will get through this, one foot in front of the next, just like we’ve gotten through everything else. Josh who sings to me, “You are beautiful, in every single way;” and who, after this latest surgery, wouldn’t let me off the couch for days after I felt like I could once again help with the kids and the house; and who is patiently waiting for me to watch Big Love and then read side-by-side in bed like the wonderfully old married couple we are.

heart love

11 thoughts on “Asymmetry, Grief and Love

  1. -Hi again Jenny – your mother’s friend Deborah here and I just had a thought I want to share with you. I have had two very unexpected accidents in the last five years – one smashed my face and the other one of my legs, and even then the thought I am about to share with you didn’t occur to me until I read your post. So here it is:
    Your mastectomy, like your cancer, is a bit of theft. Something was taken from you that belonged to you and you want it back. That’s very different from your saggy knees and saddlebags – nature gave you your body and disease stole part of it. So your desire – and my own – to retrieve the stolen – is natural and (i think) healthy. Your anger and sadness are warranted – and reflect a stubbornness that is much needed to take back what is rightfully yours!
    Just a thought. Fight on!


  2. Once again, Jenny, I teared up while reading your words, especially what you wrote about your sweet husband and marriage. Follow his lead on how to be compassionate to yourself. There is no right or wrong in terms of what you decide for your body – it is yours to do with as you please. Sending you much love.


  3. So beautifully written, Jenny. I love the idea of going somewhere else on the canvas, and good for you for being able to do this so often during the past year! Please go easy on yourself re: your desire for symmetry, you have the right to feel at home in your own body. I love you.


  4. Jenny,
    I love to be your witness, as you become more adept and agile, moving around the canvas of your life.

    All your life I’ve seen you beautiful, but since you began this ordeal, there is a whole new dimension to you, including how you look. If only you could feel yourself so beautiful as we see you.

    It is not only your surface beauty that has been transforming, becoming more stunning; your inner beauty also shines through more and more brilliantly. In your writing, in your presence, in the growing power of your love.

    Here is Hafiz, speaking to your essence:

    My Brilliant Image

    One day the sun admitted,

    I am just a shadow.
    I wish I could show you
    The Infinite Incandescence (Tej)

    That has cast my brilliant image!

    I wish I could show you,
    When you are lonely or in darkness,

    The Astonishing Light

    Of your own Being!


  5. Dear Jenny
    About your surgery and your questioning,
    as Jean-Paul Gaultier says, the dress maker (I guess you know about him)
    it’s your body you can do as you like.
    Either you inhabitate it or work with yourself to feel at ease like it is, or if you wish you can change it, as you would like it.
    Both ways are right.
    You may do as you like and what fits you.
    (Gaultier was in love with Madonna. He asked her 3 times to marry him, feeling she was like his twin, that they matched and completed themselves so well.
    She is boyish but deep inside a woman and he has many feminine features.
    As a boy he hated football, lived with many women in his family, worshiped his grandmother, loved cloths perfume and women’s way of being, and he had a dear teddy which he operated, when he was 4, to give him breasts.
    This was the beginning of his profession, and the outline of what became the corset of Madonna! very aggressive and showy!).
    He always knew, he wanted to be a dressmaker.
    For him all humans are beautiful: skinny, large, tall small,with muscles or not, as long as they are at ease and happy inside, with themselves.
    I agree with him, if you want to dye your hair, get dressed very short, wear hippy skirts, as long as you are happy and agree with yourself, it’s all right.
    (But you have to find out who you are and what you desire).
    Hope this long story can give you ideas.
    Lot’s of love Mariejeanne.


    1. Jenny, love….what powerful, perceptive, honest and beautiful words. Thank you for sharing the image of the canvas. It’s such a graceful way to regain perspective. And I’ll echo the support I see in previous comments: you have every right to feel at home in your body. And your feelings will likely come and go, even change, in coming months. So please treat yourself with love and compassion. And wow…about Josh! Your ever-growing love makes my heart sing. That is everything. Blowing you kisses and hugs.


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