Lucas did opt for the more radical treatment, and in the nine years since, she has beaten back cancer and given birth to a daughter whom she proudly breast-fed "with one boob," as she puts it. Now she shares her life-altering experiences in a memoir, Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy. Written to inspire breast cancer patients and raise awareness among younger women, it's the frank, funny guidebook that she wishes she had had for her own journey. "I wanted to demystify the process," she says. "If you can finish the book and find out what really happens, it makes cancer less scary."
When Lucas's odyssey began in 1995, she was living what felt like a charmed life. The Pennsylvania-raised daughter of a social worker dad and a guidance counselor mom, she'd been married for three years to Tyler Lucas, then an orthopedic resident. A Columbia journalism school grad, she was living in Manhattan and relishing what she calls "my dream job," working as a story editor at ABC's 20/20. With no family history of breast cancer, she was only following Tyler's advice when she examined her breasts one morning in late July. But when she encountered the lump, she writes, "my fingertips knew it was bad news."
Bad news or no, Lucas wasn't going to shrink into the woodwork. "When Geralyn walks into a room, the room lights up," Tyler says. "And she's the first person to tell me I'd better change my attitude." And so it was that just before surgery she painted her lips bright crimson—a gesture she deemed a small victory. Writes Lucas: "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."
Other little triumphs followed. After chemo treatments that began six weeks later, "she'd leave sick to her stomach and go back to work...then she'd come home and pass out," says Tyler, 41. "She wanted to show that this wasn't going to beat her." As her hair began falling out, Lucas nixed wigs and sported backward baseball caps—a gesture that coworkers took as a fashion statement rather than a cover-up. "She had such a wildly original approach to getting through it," says Meredith White, a breast cancer survivor who was her boss at 20/20. "She carved her own path."
Bravery notwithstanding, Lucas hesitated over the issue of becoming a mother. Doctors discouraged the idea because of the risk of recurrence (see box). But Lucas held fast to the memory of a woman she'd profiled for 20/20—a dying mother with breast cancer who'd made a videotape for her daughter to watch after her death. Inspired that her subject "found a way to stay in [her daughter's] life," Lucas tried to conceive—and in December 1998 learned that she was carrying a girl, which elated and horrified her: "My heart sank. I thought, 'My God, she's going to have breasts. Will she have cancer, too?' "
Now in kindergarten, Skye, 5, is an exuberant child who knows that her mom "had a boo-boo and its name was cancer," says Lucas. "A miracle," in Tyler's words, she changed Mom's outlook altogether. Now, says Lucas, the hospital where Tyler works no longer triggers memories of her surgery, but of her daughter's birth. And pink represents the hue of Skye's ballet leotard as well as the ribbons that symbolize the fight against breast cancer.
Even stripping has come into a whole new light for Lucas. In 2001 she took off her shirt and bra to pose bare-chested for a handbook on breast cancer. When she first saw the portrait, "I thought I'd see my scar, but I saw my eyes. I'd never seen my courage until then," Lucas says. "It was the first time I'd ever felt beautiful."
Michelle Tan. Debbie Seaman in New York