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Book review: ‘Adventures of a One-Breasted Woman’

Special to The Recorder

“Adventures of a One-Breasted Woman” by Susan Cummings (Booksmyth Press, 175 pages, $12.95)

Cancer isn’t easy to live with. It is also often difficult to talk about or write about. Bernardston resident Susan Cummings has gracefully managed both to live with and write about her experiences after being diagnosed with breast cancer in “Adventures of a One-Breasted Woman.”

Subtitled “Reclaiming My Moxie After Cancer,” the book follows the author for the first few years after her diagnosis in 1992 and the mastectomy that followed. A writer and actress living at the time in New York City, Cummings was thrown into crisis by dual threats: one to her health, the other to her sense of self-worth.

In addition to learning to live with the possibility that the cancer might recur, she had to learn to live with the damage her new “asymmetry” inflicted on her confidence. And she had to learn to let go of fear — fear of disease and death, fear of professional and personal rejection.

“I sought so much — outlets for my fear of and anger at cancer, more beauty in life, some beauty in me,” she writes early in the book. “I needed a new kind of faith. I wanted to dance. And maybe possibly somehow someday even find someone to dance with?”

Cummings writes about the diets and therapies she embraced in her efforts to render herself free of cancer’s threat, about friends and relatives who helped her along with way, about being fitted for a prosthetic breast, about touring art museums looking for works of art to which she could relate and about finally learning to become intimate again with others.

The book’s press release features a number of comments from readers and critics who found the book funny. I didn’t actually laugh while reading it. I did admire Cummings’ persistence and grit, however. Her writing style is frank and disarming. She laughs at herself and thereby manages to charm her reader.

“Adventures of a One-Breasted Woman” should appeal not just to readers seeking to understand the experience of dealing with cancer but also to those looking for insight into the loneliness of many contemporary Americans. Its heroine spends much of the book longing for connections with other people.

At the book’s end, Cummings makes peace with her past, reconciling herself with the legacy of her deceased parents. She redefines her present, finding new friendship and love. And she looks forward to a future full of moxie.

Tinky Weisblat is a writer and singer with a doctorate in American studies. She lives in Hawley. Readers who would like to suggest local authors for her to write about are encouraged to contact her at Tinky@merrylion.com.

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