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Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy

Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy

4.6 15
by Geralyn Lucas

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Having recently graduated from Columbia Journalism School and landed her dream job at 20/20, the last thing 27-year-old Geralyn expects to hear is a breast cancer diagnosis. And there is one part of the diagnosis that no one will discuss with her: what it means to be a young girl with cancer in a


Having recently graduated from Columbia Journalism School and landed her dream job at 20/20, the last thing 27-year-old Geralyn expects to hear is a breast cancer diagnosis. And there is one part of the diagnosis that no one will discuss with her: what it means to be a young girl with cancer in a beauty-obsessed culture. Trying to find herself, while losing her vibrancy and her looks, Geralyn embarks on a road to self-acceptance that will inspire all women. Although her book is explicitly about a period of time where she was driven by fear and uncertainty about the future, Geralyn managed a transformation that will encourage all women under siege to discover their own courage and beauty. The important and outrageous lessons of Why I Wore Lipstick come fast and furious with the same gusto that Geralyn has learned to bring to every moment of her life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lucas was 27, happily working as a 20/20 producer, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Suddenly, her world became a blur of appointments with surgeons and emotional breakdowns. Her book's catchy title belies its substantial content: this is an honest, perceptive memoir from a feisty survivor who's willing to discuss every detail, like getting sick in cabs during chemo treatments, baldness and sex. In fact, the book opens with Lucas, who's now 36, recounting her visit to a New York topless bar as she agonizes over losing a breast and contemplates reconstructive surgery. Lucas doesn't dismiss her fears; she talks about wanting to have a child and how her husband withdraws when so many other people step in to provide her with emotional support. What makes her memoir so moving is the author's breezy style and her focus on the daily details of her illness ("I am in the shower, and when I start lathering my comb-over, most of it stays in my hands. The big patches of hair just come out. No warning"). The story of Lucas's recovery, and of the birth of her daughter, make her book surprisingly optimistic and immensely empowering. Agent, Joelle Delbourgo. (Oct. 14) Forecast: Sales will get a boost from fashion designer Betsey Johnson's T-shirt celebrating Lucas's book, Stila's "Geralyn" lipstick, and promotions with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the Young Survival Coalition. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
At age 27, Lucas, director of original programming at Lifetime Television, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her fear is palpable, and the response from others, including the medical community, only exacerbates her trauma. She makes unexpected choices for her ultimate survival, including wearing lipstick to her mastectomy because it demands attention and makes her feel confident. More personal than Leibson-Hawkins's work, which collects stories from others, this totally charming, hilarious memoir will give women, especially younger women, a model of how to proceed even when they're scared to death. Highly recommended. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"This is the first time that wearing lipstick is a metaphor for courage and hope. Geralyn Lucas' story of her experience with breast cancer is written in a breezy, inspirational voice. Her energetic enthusiasm and fears are balanced beautifully and expressively to rivet the reader on each page."

-Evelyn Lauder, senior corporate vice president of The Estée Lauder Companies and founder and chairman of The Breast Cancer Research Foundation

"I played it, Geralyn lived it. Read this book and you'll never wear lipstick the same way again."

-Kim Cattrall, actress

"In this gutsy, touching and often hilarious journal, Geralyn takes the reader on her roller coaster of emotional experiences, from the heartbreak of hearing her diagnosis to the triumph of her daughter's birth. Millions of women, and those who love them, will be forever grateful for this powerful and life-affirming book. At Lifetime, I know we are immensely grateful and proud to have Geralyn's passion and knowledge dedicated to our advocacy campaign to stop breast cancer."

-Carole Black, president and CEO of Lifetime Entertainment Services

"As a doctor, I'm always looking at patients from the outside in. This book is an extraordinary perspective from the inside out. As Geralyn's self-discovery and triumph over breast cancer unfolds, she takes us with her from her doctor's office, to work, through her living room, to the bedroom, right into the bathroom, and in and out of taxicabs. You need to be with her through each of these moments to see-right up close-how much sheer sweetness, sadness, love, honesty, uncertainty, terror, courage, excitement, hope, and guts were bundled into each piece of every day. Geralyn is bigger than life and death. Now I'm wearing lipstick!"

-Marisa Weiss, M.D., breast cancer specialist, president and founder of breastcancer.org, founder of Living Beyond Breast Cancer, and author of Living Beyond Breast Cancer

"Geralyn Lucas makes you laugh and cry in the very same moment with her account of going through mastectomy and beyond. Her vivid scenes are cinematographic in detail, and sweep you along her journey with unerring perception, insight, and ultimately, acceptance and personal growth. This unique story is a must-read for any woman who has a friend, loved one, or who is herself enduring the experience of breast cancer. It's like nothing else ever written on the subject, and adds a note of humanity and humor to a topic that often lacks either. You can't help but thoroughly enjoy this book."

-Lucy Danziger, editor-in-chief of Self magazine (the founder of Pink Ribbon)

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.46(w) x 8.16(h) x 0.61(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 5
Why I Wore Lipstick

I look at my right breast for the last time ever.

It is the morning of my mastectomy surgery. The digital clock flips to 6:33 A.M. It is still dark outside but I am standing topless in a bright fluorescent-lit cubicle about to take off my jeans and un-derwear before I put on the surgical gown, hair net, and paper slip-pers the nurse has just handed to me.

As I unzip my jeans, I do notice that strangely, there is a little mirror hanging on the wall. Who could ever be vain now? I touch the mirror to make sure this is all really happening and notice the deep bags under my eyes. I pulled an all-nighter just looking at my breast and wondering how to say good-bye. I even took a picture of it. I still can't believe that when I wake up after my surgery I will have only a blood-soaked bandage where my right breast is.

I am shivering as I tie the surgical smock. It says PROPERTY OF MT. SINAI HOSPITAL in scary black letters. I realize that I, too, strangely, am now property of the hospital. There is an old air con-ditioner that is making my nipple hard, and I feel a rush of sensa-tion on my right side. What will it feel like when my breast is not there? I pile my long black hair under the hair net, hold the bangs up and push them underneath, and slide my feet into the scratchy paper slippers. I'm going through the motions, but when I look in the mirror again I start to sob.

I have Sting in my Walkman, and I'm trying to picture walking in Fields of Gold. I have written down affirmations for today that I keep reading to myself: "The scalpel is my friend." I don't care if they think I'm crazy. The cab driver has shown me I have to speak up, and I do.

There is a knock on the door and Dr. B asks if he can come in. He is in a suit and I am in scrubs. It is usually the reverse. He has come to visit me in the little cubicle and when he sees me his face drops, turning even greener than the fluorescent lights have made him look.

I know that I took horrible, and it's not just the fluorescent lighting. He is trying to rally me, but I think that the Geralyn that he knows is already gone. At least I'm pretty sure of it. I can't sum-mon myself and I can't pretend that I'm feeling brave. I'm about to lose myself, to be cut into, and already I feel my body starting to slip away from me. I'm starting to feel each breath, wondering what it will be like to be put under anesthesia for the first time. How will I wake up from the surgery? Will I cry? Will I know as soon as I wake up that my breast is gone? Will I feel the pain first and then remember? What if I don't wake up? What if I die on the operating room table? What if they open me up and there is cancer everywhere?

"Geri. We're a team. Where's my partner? Where's the Geri that I know?"

I hate the name Geri and no one else but Dr. B calls me that. He can call me anything he wants right now because he is about to cut my boob off. How do I wrap my mind around what is happen-ing to me? How do I willingly submit to this? How can I be complete when a piece of me is being cut away? How do I hold on to myself?
I can't believe he has come to visit me before I see him in the operating room. That is so amazing that he wanted to see me, all of me, before he has to cut off my boob. I want to be strong for him, for me, for my family, for Tyler. I think about trying to rally as Dr. B leaves the cubicle.

I remember how I climbed to the top of my favorite tree in my backyard wearing my Mary Janes and red-and-white-dot party dress just to prove to my younger brothers that I could. I remember how I fell down from the top branch because my Mary Janes' slippery soles slid on the bark. I was proud of my skinned knee. I had earned it.

I want to earn this moment, too. I need to summon myself and own this courage that is waiting for me to grab. Right now it is anx-iety and torture and dread but that courage is just begging me to own it. All I can think about is that somehow I need to be myself in this sterile room, during this surgery that has been forced on me. I need to remind everyone that I am not just another mastectomy, right side, on the OR table. I need to leave a trace that I was here, too, not only my boob. I can't stand the thought of anyone looking through me during such an important moment in my life, the way I felt looked through by so many doctors when I was first diagnosed.

That is when I remember my lipstick. It is almost habit-I just take it everywhere with me. I pull my lipstick out of the crinkled heap of my jeans and as carefully as I can I trace the outline of my lips. I pucker and then smooth the lipstick by rubbing my top and bottom lip together. I apply another coat. It is matte, which means it should hold up in surgery. I am glad that it is not shiny because then it might smear when they put the breathing tube down my throat. I curl my middle finger and put my knuckle in the small curve in the middle of my top lip to remove any excess and glide my pointer finger knuckle along the lower rim of my lips to make sure it looks perfect. The lipstick stains my finger and I think about the song "Lipstick on Your Collar"-maybe I will leave a little smear of lipstick in the operating room today just to let them know I was there?

I do love lipstick because no one is born with it. It is so demo-cratic. Applying it is such a willful gesture. Lipstick is confident and demands attention. I remember all the women I watched ap-plying lipstick in ladies' rooms Notice Me, I Deserve This, they were writing on their lips with every stroke. I think about Marilyn Mon-roe. I am channeling her lipstick, not her boobs.

I am so glad there is a mirror because now I can see that I finally look like myself in this hair net and surgical gown. I recognize myself with my lipstick. It needs to look perfect because it will look creepy and bizarre if it is slightly smudged. That will make me look wild. I am going for defiant, and there is a difference. I want to look as deliberate as possible. It is not an accident that I am wearing lipstick. It is not left over from a wild night of partying. My lipstick will say, Notice Me.

I am so relieved I had my long-lasting, super-matte lipstick in my pocket. This is a high-endurance situation, more than the commercials where the model keeps eating and wiping her mouth and her lipstick is still perfect eight hours later.

When the nurse calls my name I think about how prisoners marching to their deaths somehow find one defiant gesture to mock the situation. Even as I am sedated under heavy anesthetic, and my breast is being carefully placed in the pathology lab Tupperware, maybe I can still feel attractive.
I am put on a gurney and wheeled underground through the hospital towards the operating room. After an elevator ride, I am in a bright holding area outside the operating room where they will cut off my breast. It is such a deep moment, but all I can think about is how thirsty I am, because I was not allowed to drink any-thing before my surgery. The night before, I had a huge lobster din-ner to celebrate my birthday. Note to self: Do not eat lobster dipped in butter,
cf0rice pilaf, and creme brulee if you're having sur-gery the next day. What was I thinking? Maybe it is Titanic rea-soning: I am going down with violins playing. My parents made me go out to celebrate, but I drew the line at the waiter singing "Happy Birthday." There is nothing happy about this birthday. Tyler gave me a beautiful antique glass necklace for my birthday. It was such an odd gift because I can't picture wearing a necklace when I am bald and have one boob. It is a strange vote of confi-dence that he thinks I will still be able to wear a beautiful necklace, that his vision of who I am has not changed yet. But I'm worried about us, about what all this is doing to him. He stayed out until 4 A.M. two nights ago. He came home and smelled like beer, and when I asked him where he had been he told me that he had spent the night crying in his beer about his wife who has breast cancer to three women visiting from Australia that he just met at the bar. They all cried for me.

I see Dr. Brower again, but this time he is in full surgeon mode-in all-blue scrubs with a mask-standing in the hallway just outside the operating room. Dr. Brower tells me they are set, ting up the OR and just need about five more minutes. Five min-utes? I need an Ativan. Help. My heart is feeling so wild right now and my lipstick is making me feel even wilder.

My anesthesiologist, has come to put the IV line in my arm. He is gentle but it still hurts to get the needle. I feel the smooth rush of fluids entering my vein. When he comes over to check my IV I beg him for some anti-anxiety medication. He pushes something through my IV and I feel the rush in my vein.

How long will It take this sedative to kick in? Maybe I need to pace and say more affirmations to calm myself down? I slide off the gurney as delicately as I can and pull the IV pole along. I realize the back of my surgical gown is open and my butt is hanging out but does it matter if anyone checks it out? I am about to have my breast cut off, so there is no false modesty here.

I see the fiery red exit sign at the end of the hallway and I start shuffling towards it, dragging the IV pole, sort of like we are doing the Hustle together. The exit sign matches my bright red lipstick. It is equally defiant and it is screaming a siren song: "Bolt out the door and keep your breast. Bolt. Keep your breast. Bolt." I am try-ing to remember my lipstick, but all I see is the scalpel.

I know now why exit signs were invented. For dangerous situa-tions like this: like fires, and like fleeing a building so your breast will not be cut off. My life is on fire. It is burning down around me. I don't belong here. I need to EXIT.

How did this all happen in just a matter of weeks? Why did this happen? Why me? Was it because I took birth control pills, did not go to the gym enough? Ate too many cheeseburgers? The one cigarette I smoked in ninth grade? I want to leave so badly. I have not lived my life hard enough. I have never gotten a speeding ticket. I have lived inside the lines too much. I want to run. Would I set off an alarm if I bolted through the door? I want to just walk through the door and go back to the life I left where the "clean" I worried about was a stain on my favorite pants, not the cancer in my lymph nodes. They are removing my lymph nodes today and tomorrow I will know if my cancer has spread. That feels almost as scary as waking up without a breast.

The red letters EXIT are glowing, and showing me a safe passage back to the life I left.

But I think how crazy I would look running down Fifth Avenue in a surgical smock with my ass hanging out with a hairnet. I see strange people in New York City all the time but this would be es-pecially creepy because I have bright red lipstick on. And where would I run to? I would be a fugitive from cancer. I might pull it off, but the IV pole would have to come, too. My IV pole is my ball and chain. I could yank it out, but I faint when I see blood, and this would be messy.

I decide not to run out the door because I am scared of what people would think of me-that, and it might make the cover of the New York Post. GIRL GOES WILD BEFORE MASTECTOMY SURGERY!

They would write about my lipstick. I always worry about what people think, so I know I am still here. It is a good sign that I am too embarrassed to flee. It is the lipstick that saves me from leav-ing. I would never be able to explain why I was wearing it.

I am so scared that one of my second-opinion cancer doctors who told me that I needed to see a psychiatrist might see me now in the operating room area. Yikes. Those doctors would definitely say, "You still need to see a psychiatrist, especially because you are wearing lipstick to your mastectomy surgery." But I know that I'm not crazy. Since all the doctors told me that I am "living with risk' (risk of my cancer coming back, risk of dying) I have decided to become risque.

I shuffle back to the stretcher, and now it is show time.

Because Tyler works in this hospital he manages to sneak my parents and brothers up through the corridors into the surgical holding area to see me one last time. What if I never wake up from the surgery? Is this our last hug? They are hugging me so hard that I am scared my IV might get pulled out. And then they are wheel-ing me in and it almost looks like a kitchen because there is so much stainless steel everywhere. Maybe my lipstick will shimmer its reflection in the dull surfaces.

There must be about ten people in the OR in scrubs. I realize that they only know me as twenty-eight-year-old mastectomy, right breast. But just maybe they will notice my lipstick? My lip-stick feels so far away from the scalpel.

My lipstick is all I have.

I'm clinging to that thin film of beeswax or paraffin or whatever ingredients lipstick is made of. That thin layer of color, of mois-ture, of hope is all I have that is mine when they put the oxygen mask on my face to put me under. I am holding on so tight to that hyper-red-notice-me-now pigment that is screaming that I am out of context because I do not deserve to be in this operating room having my breast cut off.

I want my lipstick to tell everyone in this room that I think I have a future and I know I will wear lipstick again, but on my terms next time. But for now, I have my war paint. I think I am ready. I glide my tongue one last time over the smooth surface and I taste the lipstick in my mouth and it is mingling with the anesthesia cloud that has made me very sleepy and then-1 am out.

If I were awake I would see Dr. B slicing away the mound of flesh that was my breast and carefully placing it in the pathology container.

If I were awake I would hear the beeping of my heart and the whirring of the breathing machine, because I am incubated.

If I were awake, I might feel a little pride that I wore such a true red shade that it now seems to perfectly match the blood on the operating room table.

If I were awake I would tell them how proud I am that I decided to cut off my breast, to hopefully save my life. If I were awake I would tell them that I know I will still be a woman.

For anyone who does not believe this, that is why I am wearing lipstick.

0In the sterility of the operating room I am laughing.

In the blood and gauze I am dancing.

Under anesthesia, with a tube forced down my throat, I am hopeful and maybe even a little sexy.

And slightly in control, just knowing that my lipstick might last.

Copyright 2004 by Geralyn Lucas

Meet the Author

Geralyn Lucas graduated with honors from the Columbia University School of Journalism. She was an editorial producer at ABC News 20/20 for seven years before becoming the director of corporate communications and public affairs at Lifetime Television. She is also a proud member of Lifetime's Stop Breast Cancer for Life initiative. Geralyn lives in New York City with her husband, Tyler, and daughter, Skye. She never leaves the house without lipstick.

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Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As someone starting the battle with breast cancer, I found Lucas' journey familiar and her humor comforting. Most importantly, it gave me hope for the future and served as a reminder that a cancer diagnosis should not hinder one's determination to live life on one's own terms.
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Chloe_L More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the film, so i bought the book.it was different but in a good way.it gives me a sense of what she went through and hope in my own inner strength.i think every person should read this to understand the potential strength and courage a person can have.the phrase "I am the sky" stays with me.thank you.
kitykity More than 1 year ago
I bought this book before my best friend started going through chemo. It gave me a little inside scoop of what life would be like for her...
book_junkie10 More than 1 year ago
My book club read this & we has a wonderful discussion that had LOTS of subtopics! We talked about women's views of things, feelings, temperament, factual info, self breast exams, our local Komen Race (that had taken place the same day as our book club) & a variety of other topics. Geralyn told the nitty gritty of her breast cancer battle & let us see her REAL LIFE during that particularily rough time. She also wrote about her feelings, some of which were very raw & things that have gone through other people's minds but they may not have had the strength to say them out loud or share them with others!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I haven't read the book YET. But i will, after watching the movie on Lifetime Tv I wanted to get the book, I seen the movie twice. Sarah Chalke was great for the role. I enjoyed the movie, I laughed, cried, smiled, and felt moved by the character of Geralyn lucas.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This one was good, a few parts made me last, I read it in one sitting last night.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Geralyn Lucas manages to share her experience, strength and hope about her breast cancer diagnosis in a bold and funny way. As a breast cancer survivor, I certainly could relate to her story. I only wish I had her drive (maybe it is because I really wear lip gloss). Geralyn's book is honest, open and true. She is an inspiration and best of all; a survivor.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a must read. As I turned the pages I was gripped by Geralyn Lucas' ability to story tell. She takes us on her journey through a cruel diagnosis, I sense her fear, feel her pain and loved her humor. She is a gifted new writer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Geralyn Lucas has written a memoir about an unbelievably painful personal experience -- her diagnosis with breast cancer at age 27 -- and has managed to write an extremely entertaining book that is uplifting and inspirational. Her writing moves seamlessly between the humor that she is able to see in parts of her situation, frank commentary on doctors and not-always-helpful family, and some of the most poignant, affecting descriptions of private fears that I have ever read. This book is not to be missed.