Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy

At 27, in 1995, the lovely young producer on 20/20, Geralyn Lucas, was met with sad eyes when people found out she’d just been diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Free Macro White Teeth With Dental Floss and R...

Red Lipstick (Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography. Creative Commons)

“Extensive intraductal carcinoma, poorly differentiated, clean margins, negative estrogen receptors, lobular.”

“You’re so young.”

“You’re so pretty.”

“It’s such a shame.”

Well, that was not helpful.

So, she decided she needed to take control of her life.

She put on lipstick and high heels and went to a strip club.

Her doctors were giving her conflicting recommendations about whether she should have a mastectomy or a lumpectomy, or even a double mastectomy.

Each ended their recommendation with the statement that it was her choice.

She didn’t want it to be her choice.

She wanted the doctors to tell her what to do.

In the end, she had a single mastectomy with chemotherapy.

It’s not that she ever considered performing in a strip club, but with a mastectomy she knew she never would be able to.

What would she be giving up?

It was the lipstick that was the key to her courage throughout her journey.

“Lipstick – I never used to wear it.

“I used to be strictly a gloss girl: Bonne Bell.”

“Lipstick was reserved for movie stars, rocker chicks, magazine-ad models, and a certain type of woman that I knew I was not.”

“The tinted gloss sustained me until college, when I received some red lipstick as a free gift with a purchase…”

“Some sort of confidence was on my lips staring back at me.”

What Sustained Her?

Social network.

Lucas not only had a good job in an industry she loved, in a vote of confidence, they promoted her while she was undergoing chemotherapy.

Her boss was a breast cancer survivor.

Her parents, family and friends surrounded her at her chemotherapy sessions.

Her husband was a surgeon who practiced at the hospital where she had her mastectomy.

And, although professional courtesy helped sustain him, he worried that either 1) she would die or 2) she would wake up after her brush with death, decide she wanted a different life and leave him.

So, his professional preparation was a mixed bag.

Playing the Cancer Card

The first two taxi drivers she told that she had cancer had wives who had also had it.

On leaving her first chemotherapy session:

“When the empty taxi pulls over the first thing I hear is heavy metal music…I do not want to step into a Black Sabbath concert now because I feel so queasy….

“He’s covered in tattoos and wearing a black bandanna..

‘I just had my first chemotherapy treatment. Please, please try to drive slowly.

‘I’m so scared that I’ll vomit in your car.’

“The next thing I hear is soft classical music and he has pulled his taxi over. …

‘My wife had ovarian cancer and it was the chemo that nearly killed her.’

“He rolls down the windows in case I need to vomit and drives so slowly that we get honked at four times.

“He parks the taxi in front of my apartment building and insists on carrying my bag and walking me to the front door.”

Taking Charge

After Lucas’s final breast reconstruction surgery she decided that instead of a nipple tattoo, she wanted an actual tattoo, a heart at the end of her mastectomy scar, across the skin over her implant.

“My scar looks like a skid mark, where I hit the brakes and came so close to death.”

She called around to tattoo parlors to see if this were even possible and found one that understood the physiology of her request.

Afterwards, she agreed to a topless photo for Self magazine to bring mastectomy and reconstruction out of the closet of fear and shame.

Could She Have Children?

After a cancer survivors’ walk for breast cancer, Lucas was approached by a young woman.

“Just as I’m about to take off my survivor hat a young Mom holding a baby walks up to me.

‘Excuse me. Are you a survivor?’

‘I came to the walk today to meet a young woman and show her my baby.’

‘All my doctors told me not to get pregnant, but I did anyway.’

‘I wanted to show my baby to someone to give her some hope.’”

The doctors recommended that Lucas wait two years after her chemotherapy treatment.

She waited five.

“When I walk into my baby shower the first thing I notice is all the pink – and I panic.”

“Pink is precarious and dangerous to me now. I have been wearing pink ribbons since my diagnosis.”

Lucas had a daughter and a few years later, a son.

She nursed.

What Is It About Lipstick?

“I do love lipstick because no one is born with it.

“It is so democratic.”

She remembers the day of her mastectomy surgery.

“Each time I wear lipstick, I am emboldened by the memory of that day: the IV line in my arm, my surgical gown with my butt hanging out, and my perfectly applied lipstick.”

“I swear I can still taste that hope.”

Where Is She Now?

Lucas is Executive Director of Public Affairs at Lifetime TV, in New York City.

Her web site promotes early detection, like the discovery of lumps in a self-breast exam that first sent her to her doctor.

New Vocabulary.

Nipple Tattoo

After a mastectomy, part of reconstruction of a breast can include reconstruction of a nipple.

Optionally, tattoos can duplicate a natural, nipple color.

Order Lucas’ book from amazon.com by clicking on the title, Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy, or order the movie made for A&E Television Network based on the book.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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