My first breast cancer occurred 50 years ago, when I was 31 years old, and resulted in a mastectomy with radiation treatment. Fifteen years later, in 1972, a second breast cancer was discovered and I had a second mastectomy. So, I lived with one breast for quite a while, until I became bilateral at the age of 46. These were times when support groups for women with breast cancer didn't exist and women weren't able to participate in decisions about their cancer treatments. Nor did most women feel comfortable being open about the fact that they had cancer. I decided to make cancer my career and worked as a therapist with post-mastectomy women, focusing on issues of self-image and sexuality.
I had to deal with these issues myself when my husband died. I was 63 years old and had been married for 42 years. It took several years before I was ready for a new relationship, but I wondered how, as a single woman without breasts, I would ever be able to attract another man. I had not had reconstruction since radiation had eliminated that possibility. Also, over the years I had developed lymphedema in my right arm and had very little use of my right hand, which had become numb. I had worn prostheses for years and had learned how to dress with wide sleeves to hide my swollen arm. I decided to experiment with not wearing bras at all but making outfits look chic with scarves. This was a way to convince myself that if any man I liked showed interest, he would also accept my flat chest. I was not going to be a fraud pretending to have breasts that didn't exist.
By the time I was 69, I had found the most wonderful man, who was also widowed. We married and have already spent 11 years together. He was very accepting of my breastless situation and together we've found the love and gratitude to be able to continue life.
When your partner dies, you feel your life is over. Cancer is a test we could all do without, but when you come through stronger than before you've also set the parameters to come through even more difficult times that may lie ahead. I've found that whenever I'm faced with a very difficult problem or illness I ask myself, How did I get through it before? This gives me the courage to believe I'm strong enough to overcome adversity again.
Living without breasts is a great challenge to any woman, but finding a way to feel attractive, self-assured, and confident goes a long way to healing the feeling of being wounded. I look at myself as someone who bears the scars of a warrior who has survived a great battle.
Reggie passed away at age 82, not from breast cancer, having lived more than half her life breast-free. She remained beautiful and vibrant until the end.