Perceptions of Beauty

My latest mammogram report noted the “architectural deformity” in my right breast. I guess it won’t be showcased in Architectural Digest any time soon.

Reading one’s own medical records is like peeking into another’s private diary in which he or she gossips about you. It’s strange to read someone else’s words about the most private aspects of your life. Some of it is disconcerting, but your eyes are fixed. It’s a page turner. It’s about you, after all, and yet it’s written in such a detached manner, like a butcher might speak of a dead cow that hangs in a row of dead cows in the slaughterhouse.

Still, I appreciate the peek inside my own breast. Whereas the mirror tells me one story, the report allowed me to look through the window of a gated house and glimpse the inside. My medical records tell me I’ve been snipped, clipped and burned. My interior bears the marks of surgery and radiation. I didn’t need the commentary about the external view. Architectural deformity? I suppose you could say that.

My surgeon is my architect. I think he did a grand job of excising the 2.54 cm. mass from my breast. In a post-surgery followup, he viewed the final result and agreed. “Beautiful!”

“You’re the sculptor,” I said.

Good wood,” he replied. “I’m only as good as the wood I work with.”

This was no hormone-driven, second-base transgression and this elderly gentleman was no dirty old man. He was my surgeon, pleased with the result much like a sculptor admires his finished work.

Deformed? Perhaps to the paint-by-number technicians who viewed and interpreted my mammogram and acknowledged that mine had been altered to deviate from the norm. Personally, I see a breast that is cancer-free. When I gaze in the mirror and see the slash lines – one on the top quadrant of my breast and the other curling in my armpit – I see a historical site in my personal history where cancer once was, but is no more.

I’m not blind. I also see the gash, the dent, the way the flesh folds and caves in. I’m aware of the disparity in size between the two sides. It’s no Van Gogh or Monet, but to me it’s the most beautiful sight in the world. That’s because my “deformity” is a daily reminder of the malignant mass that is no more because it died instead of me.

I don’t need a medical report to tell me my right breast bears little resemblance to its sister on the left. If they are twins, surely they’re not identical.

Hiking in Topanga State Park Feb 09 011

Topanga Canyon, California

Like mountain ranges where smaller hills stand among the taller, no one says they are misshapen because they vary in size and texture. The fact that they are asymmetrical makes them more interesting and beautiful as the lines jut and intersect  and sweep against the other.

When I awoke from surgery, the first thing I saw was my surgeon’s face. “Eileen,” he said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but a malignancy was found in one of your lymph nodes. I know you don’t want chemotherapy, but I don’t see any way around it.” At that moment I had no cares about chemotherapy. Only one thing was on my mind.  I looked at Dr. Sievers through glazed and groggy eyes and said, “Thank you for saving my life.”

This is why when I stand before the mirror and my scars remind me of what was but is no more, I see a sight so exquisite, I can’t help but smile at its beauty.


  1. This is so beautifully written, Eileen.

    When I see myself in the mirror I don’t see deformity although my right breast no longer looks the same after having two surgeries but I do experience a lot of different emotions. Sometimes I feel detached as if they weren’t even there.The scars don’t bother me but let’s just say my relationship with my breasts is complex. I am still in the process of trusting my body again. It’s challenging. I do appreciate how strong my body stood during all those heavy treatments and continues to.

    I do try to be kind to my body though.

    • Rebecca, you touched on an important topic beyond accepting our scars – trusting our bodies again. I think many of us feel a sense of betrayal by our own bodies. I know I did, particularly so because I thought I was doing everything “right.” As if that’s any kind of insurance.

      I’m glad you’re kind to your body. I think after all we’ve been through, compassion toward ourselves is good medicine.

  2. Wonderful insight and perspective Eileen….Good lessons for everyone.

  3. Judy Applesmith says

    Eileen, What a beautifully written story about the feelings that go with having breast cancer. The scars are permanent & a daily reminder of what we have been through. Fortunately we are here to share our story & support each other. I agree that there is a special relationship w/ the surgeon. Mine closed her eyes & said a prayer before I fell asleep. She told me later that she prays before every surgery.

    • Judy, as for support, you’ve definitely been that for me. Your generous sharing of your story helped me so much in my own healing, for which I am eternally grateful.

      As for surgeons, yours is amazing. What a wonderful woman! Mine was wonderful in a different way. I’ve often said he was a good surgeon and an excellent human being. We were both so fortunate!

  4. Eileen, I loved the mountain metaphor and your perspective on your surgeon and what your scars mean to you. Although I have body image issues, I found your post so comforting and never really thought of my scars quite that way. I am grateful to my surgeon — my doctors are amazing and I am grateful that they worked together to save my life.

    • Beth, I’m so glad you found some comfort in my post. It came from my heart and I meant every word. Of course, I too am grateful your doctors saved your life. I’m certain there’s a little girl who’s also very glad you’re here.

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