The Golden Touch: 50-plus Years of Love and Support
More than five decades have passed since Wayne Bryant married his high school sweetheart, Gale. When Wayne started dating Gale in the tenth grade he thought she was the prettiest, smartest, wittiest girl he had ever met. After 51 years together, his opinion hasn’t changed. In more than half a century of marriage Wayne and Gale have experienced many joys and weathered many storms, including two bouts with breast cancer.
Trying Times – 1988
Gale was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time in the summer of 1988 after a routine mammogram detected a suspicious spot in her right breast. She was 43 years old.
“I was in denial after I heard the diagnosis,” Wayne said. “I was scared to death and didn’t know what to do. I went through a lot of emotions and tried to understand what my wife was feeling.”
Wayne and Gale did their research, which included speaking with a close friend who had had a mastectomy. Gale saw a specialist at the University of Virginia, as well as a talented radiologist who seemed to have a magic eye for spotting things others couldn’t in test results.
“In 1988 the support and resources just weren’t there yet for women diagnosed with breast cancer,” Wayne recalled. “We were lucky to have such an amazing radiologist on our side.”
Gale came right out and told the couple’s two children, Kim and Geoff, about her diagnosis and the treatment she would need. Geoff listened intently and took time to mull over his mother’s words. His main concern was whether or not she would be OK. Kim had been experiencing the normal mother/daughter tension during her teenage years but Gale’s breast cancer diagnosis changed their relationship.
“They both realized they didn’t want to waste valuable time on small differences,” Wayne said.
Wayne and Kim are a lot alike. Both are extroverts and vocalize their thoughts. Kim was there for her father when he needed to talk through his feelings. “I have to be careful about not vocalizing what’s in my head right away because my thoughts get scrambled and the wrong words come out,” Wayne explained. “My daughter helped me to understand and draw out what I really wanted to say.”
Their son Geoff is an introvert and processes his thoughts differently. He was concerned about whether or not he should leave for college and confided his worries only to his sister, who was able to help him think through that important decision.
Total Eclipse of the Sun – 1997
Gale was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in the spring of 1997. When Wayne asked her what she wanted to do she said she didn’t want to live life scared and that she was going to have a double mastectomy.
“She was quite matter of fact about her decision,” Wayne said. “She knew it was going to be a big change for her but it was what she wanted.”
After speaking with surgeons and learning about her options, Gale opted for a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.
“It was difficult for me to see Gale go through so many changes,” Wayne said. “At first I worried about hurting her during intimacy, and I was reluctant to do anything because I didn’t want to cause her pain. With time and practice, though, we figured out what worked for us. None of the important things had changed.”
Wayne had planned a trip to Curacao to see a total eclipse of the sun in February 1998, but Gale was reluctant to go because she didn’t like the way she looked after her surgeries. Wayne told her he was going, no matter what. Gale changed her mind and traveled with him.
“She had a good time,” Wayne said. “After that trip she realized she was going to be OK. Breast cancer took something away from her and put something else in its place, but it didn’t change who she was as a person.”
New Age – Beyond Boobs! Style
Wayne is pleased to note that so much has changed in the way women with breast cancer are treated. “There are so many more resources and materials available for women diagnosed with breast cancer and their loved ones,” he said. “People no longer whisper about the diagnosis, more treatment options are available, and outcomes are better. There is also a lot more support, including Beyond Boobs!”
Wayne has always been a student of human behavior, but now that he is in his 70s and has stood beside Gale to face the fear and uncertainty of breast cancer twice, he is adept at spotting a partner who is just starting to travel that road. Wayne attends lots of Beyond Boobs! events and makes a point of talking with the men to help put them at ease.
“I can look at a woman’s partner and see that he is worried and scared to death, but he is doing what he can for her,” Wayne said. “Men don’t talk about those kinds of things much, but I can see it in their eyes and in their expressions.”
Wayne often goes up to fellow Boober! husbands or boyfriends to chat. “I tell them how pretty their wives or girlfriends are and we talk about our jobs or mutual interests,” he said. “I’m not always sure how to start the conversation, but after talking for a little while I figure out what to say.”
Wayne isn’t all talk, though. He has no problem putting his mouth where his chest is. The first time he went to the holiday parade in Williamsburg he thought he would only be watching and cheering for the float Beyond Boobs! had decorated. Bundled up in an overcoat and earmuffs, he soon found himself outfitted in a stuffed pink bra, marching down Duke of Gloucester street.
“The spectators loved it,” Wayne recalled.
Wayne is grateful for the support Beyond Boobs! provides to women diagnosed with breast cancer. “It is a great organization,” he said. “They handle the human element of recovery in the social realm. They are getting the message out and letting people know it is OK to talk, to be concerned about each other, and to reach out.”
Wayne still thinks Gale is the prettiest, smartest, wittiest woman he has ever met. They can talk for hours and hours or just enjoy a comfortable silence together. He knows, though, that they are not the same people they were as newlyweds so many years ago.
“We have gone through four or five versions of ourselves since then,” Wayne said. “But we continue loving each other through the years and the changes. Life is a miracle, and I’m OK with miracles.”