Reggie Straight

You’re never alone in your fight against cancer, said breast cancer survivor Reggie Straight. She draws support and inspiration from her children and friends, and her “family” at the Sharing and Caring cancer support group.

The first thing you notice about Reggie Straight is her almost blinding smile. Her infectious laugh is second.

For a while, that smile dimmed and the laughter almost went away when, three days before Christmas 2003, she found out she had breast cancer.

She’d done the monthly checkups recommended by the American Cancer Society. But like so many women, she had no warning signs of cancer.

She did have a suspicious mammogram. A couple of years before another doctor had said the same reading was “just fatty tissue.”

“Thank God these other doctors were picky,” she said.

She was hysterical when she got the news.

“I cried and cried and cried. I’m going to die, I said.”

She underwent a lumpectomy on Dec. 30 to see if the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.

“Go ahead. Guess which one,” she said with a loud laugh, clapping her chest with both hands.

The cancer hadn’t spread. Had she waited another year for a mammogram, it more than likely would have.

“And it would have been too late,” she said.

“Being lopsided really wasn’t the worst thing,” she said with a broad smile. To ease the sting of losing her hair, she had a head-shaving party. (“We ate and shaved my head and I cried a little bit more.”) She’d toss on a wig or hat or scarf and just go.

“With a wig, you always have a good hair day. It’s just not your hair,” she said, laughing. “You have to have your fun. I didn’t want anybody feeling sorry for me.”

Divorcing her husband of nearly 25 years made coping with cancer difficult.

“But I kept thinking, things could be worse. My hair fell out, but that meant the chemo was working. The cancer wasn’t in my lymph nodes. By the grace of God, I didn’t miss a day of work, aside from the surgery.”

And she had her two biggest fans: her children, Andrea and Christopher.

“I don’t know what I would have done without them. Andrea did more than any 17-year-old daughter should have to do for her mom. Chris was the comedian. He kept things upbeat.

“They were both scared to death, but they didn’t cry or let on.”

True to form, Straight found humor in the radiation treatments.

“When they first did me for my cast, they put a sheet on me and the door was open. Here I am, laying there with nothing on and ‘the girls’ were just free. And the blanket started sliding and people just passing by. ‘Hi. How ya doin’?’

“I just lay there thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ Then I thought, ‘They’ve seen one boob. They’ve seen them all.’” She laughed.

“I don’t want to repeat it, but will if I have to. You just do what you have to do. You cry and carry on, but when it comes down to it, there’s no discussion.”

She didn’t want chemotherapy.

“That word scared me to death. But my doctor told me the cancer was like lots of scattered little specks of paint, and he wanted chemotherapy to ‘nip it in the bud,’ just like Barney Fife says.”

Eight chemo treatments and 33 rounds of radiation later, the cancer was gone. She’ll be taking a hormone blocker for the next five years. (“Yeah. It’s a hormonal ‘thang.’”)

Straight said she’s learned a few things from her cancer experience.

First, she has more friends than she ever thought she did.

“I wish I could name them all, but I don’t have time. It’s just unbelievable. I don’t know if I can say this without crying.” She couldn’t.

That first Christmas she found a package on her doorstep with a $50 bill. Groceries have been left on her porch every Thanksgiving.

“There’s some nice people out there. Still to this day, I don’t know who it was.”

Second, she’s not the powder puff she thought she was.

“I’m a lot stronger. I used to be a very dependent person. Now I’m doing things I never used to do and not asking for help. I can handle things more. I’m a leader more now than a follower.

“For being 49, I’ve grown up a lot. And that’s a good thing.”

Cancer can be frightening, she admitted.

“The initial shock will scare you, but it’s not a death sentence. Once you settle down, you gotta have faith. I can’t stress hope enough.

“On a hard day, I’d sit and lick my wounds and feel sorry for myself. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, scared for my kids. I kept saying over and over that I was going to die.

“But I didn’t. I didn’t, buddy.”

She attends the Mannington Sharing and Caring support group for the fellowship and inspirational speakers.

“We’re like a big family. We laugh and hug and pray for each other. We all lean on each other. I think, ‘I’m not alone. A lot of people have been through what I’ve been through.’

“There will be times when you say you can’t do this. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it. But you have to. It’s wonderful how you get the strength within you to do it.

“You’re not alone,” she said. “You have to talk to somebody. You can’t hold it in. But you gotta talk to somebody who’s been there. You can be as sympathetic as you want, but if you’ve not walked in my shoes ... Well, that’s nice, but you don’t know what I’m going through.

“You can never give up hope. There’s always just a little, minute chance. They’re doing things all the time to increase longevity.

“And you can’t take life for granted. You have to live life every day and do the best you can to be healthy.”

Just like she does.

“I am a good girl. All my checkups are good, thank you very much.”

To be a cancer survivor period is great. For Straight, being a Cancer Survivor of the Year is out of this world.

“Yeah, baby! I’m tickled to death. I feel special. There are a lot of cancer survivors in Marion County, more than I ever realized.”

Celebration of Life and Relay for Life are must-do events for her.

“We outline the wall at the Celebration of Life. When we hold the candles and they turn the lights off — oh,” she sighed, “there’s nothing like it.

“But I never dreamed that I’d be up there THIS YEAR!!” she almost screamed with a loud, happy laugh.

“And the survivor’s walk is really emotional, really touching. People are cheering you on, people you don’t even know. And you have such a bond with the survivors, because you’ve been through the same thing. You just made it through the journey. You’re here.

“Oh, man, there ain’t no pill for that.

“I am here,” she said firmly, seriously. “There is hope after diagnosis.

“I’m alive. I’m here. I made it. I’m still here and I’m going to be here.”

E-mail Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.

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