Mastectomy Help Group Gains a Fan

Actress Jill Ireland, a mastectomy patient, says she had never heard of Reach to Recovery, a rehabilitation program sponsored by the American Cancer Society for women who have breast cancer.

“What exactly does this group do?” Ireland asked Paula Bailey during a luncheon and fashion show Friday at the Crystal Cathedral Arboretum in Garden Grove. Fashion for Winners is a benefit staged annually by the local Reach to Recovery group.

“Our volunteers, all breast cancer survivors, visit women who have had breast surgery for cancer and give them helpful information and moral support,” answered Bailey, chairman of the event which raised $20,000 for the Orange County unit of the American Cancer Society.

“No one came to me,” said Ireland, who had arrived by limousine from Los Angeles to speak to 500 guests about her surgery and the book she had written on the subject, “Life Wish.”

“I had to discover it all for myself. And I was needing so much hope at the time,” said the tall, British-born actress who had her surgery 2 1/2 years ago.


Ironically, her book, which weaves an intimate tale of Ireland’s war against cancer, begins with the words: “When I was told I had cancer, I would have loved to talk to someone who had had the disease. . . .”

Not every doctor tells his patient about Reach to Recovery, Bailey says.

“Some doctors don’t like what we do. They think we don’t know what we’re talking about. But we don’t give medical advice. We lend support and teach women about helpful exercise, that sort of thing,” she said.

Ireland shook her head. “A wonderful idea,” she said. “But, come to think of it, if I’d had someone come, I may not have written my book.”

The book, Ireland says, was developed to reach out to other cancer victims. “When I learned I had cancer, I was terrified. But I had family support (Ireland is married to actor Charles Bronson. Between them, they have seven children.) I thought, ‘What if someone received this news and they had no one?’ I started out to write a book that could become a companion to others and ended up writing a book that became a companion to me.

“Three weeks after my surgery, I began to write it, to look forward to coming down the stairs in the morning, having my cup of tea, and working on my manuscript. In nine months, I had 500 pages.”

The book, published in January, was on the New York Times best seller list for two months, she said.

After the benefit luncheon, the 51-year-old Ireland, who wore a butter-hued suede suit, buff silk shirt and animal-print scarf, took the stage: “Hello. I’m Jill Ireland,” she said, looking smaller than life in the huge arboretum. “The girl who had everything, including cancer.

“It had spread to eight lymph nodes. I needed six months of chemotherapy. Now, every day, I find more joy and gratitude that I have another day on this wonderful earth of ours.”

Comedienne Marcia Wallace (a regular on an earlier Bob Newhart series) was another special guest at the affair. “Yes, I had breast cancer,” she told the audience. “I had my surgery a year and a half ago. It’s no day at the beach, as many of you know. I thought it would never happen to me. But I discovered a tumor just before I was to get married for the first time in my life.

“My husband had asked me to marry him only three days before. But, this was a time I had never felt better or stronger about myself. So, I said, ‘All right!’ and then I said ‘Why?’ I went to another doctor. He agreed I must have a mastectomy. It was a small lump. Early detection is the key.”

Models for the benefit fashion show included Reach to Recovery volunteer Barbara Charlton of Fountain Valley, herself a survivor of breast cancer.

Bailey, the event chairman, says the local chapter of Reach to Recovery, composed of 74 members, made 600 visits last year.

“Anyone who calls (the American Cancer Society) is visited. We visit from Anaheim to San Clemente,” she said. “But if someone called me from Los Angeles, I’d go. The whole experience has helped me get my priorities in order. I cut a lot of stress from my life. I think stress has a lot to do with it (getting cancer). The year I learned I had breast cancer had been the most stressful year of my life. Today, I relax more. I spend more time alone--letting down, being myself.”

Ireland said she, too, was trying to slow down, to take better care of herself. But she already has started a second book, a story about her recovery phase.

“I’ve always burned the candle at both ends and lit a flame in the middle,” she said. “Always.”

The 20 scholarship winners from Color It Orange, an annual art exhibit produced by Designing Women, a support group of the Art Institute of Southern California in Laguna Beach, have more than funds in store for them this year.

“Their art will be the inaugural exhibit at the Laguna Art Museum’s new Young Artists Gallery at South Coast Plaza,” said Nancy Lawrence, chairman of Color It Orange, on Friday night at a preview party for members of Designing Women. “The museum is due to open the beginning of June.”

The Color It Orange exhibit, which features artworks by Orange County children in kindergarten through the 12th grade will continue at the Institute through May 15.

Also among those attending the preview party were Tom Reeve, institute president; William Otton, new institute trustee and director of the Laguna Art Museum; Muriel Reynolds, founder of Designing Women; JoAnn Killingsworth, president of Designing Women; Anne Colin, party chairman; Ruth Salyer, trustee and ardent volunteer; Betty Kemp, past president of Designing Women, and Phyllis and Dr. Raymond Contino, who will be the hosts for Designing Women’s summer benefit, South of the Border, at their home in Twin Points. Show jurists were Richard Challis, Dickran Tashjian and Otton.