Often times Geralyn Lucas references angels when she talks at breast cancer awareness events. Lucas, the author of “Why I Wore Lipstick to my Mastectomy,” found a lump in her breast when she was 27 years old. Her husband, Tyler, is a doctor and was working with cancer patients at the time.
“He would tell me every night, ‘Someone you know, someone you love, will have breast cancer.’”
When he said that, he likely didn’t know ‘someone’ would be his wife.
Tyler treated a 28-year-old woman who was misdiagnosed three times. She didn’t have insurance and didn’t speak English; she had a mastectomy, but it was too late.
“I had never heard of someone that young getting breast cancer,” Lucas said.
Lucas considers the woman her angel. It was because of her that Lucas felt compelled to do her own self-breast exam in the shower. Despite having no prior family history, she found a lump.
“I had my mastectomy the day after my 28th birthday,” she said.
And yes, she did wear lipstick to the appointment.
“Women across the country have sent me photos of themselves wearing lipstick to their mastectomy, it’s a powerful thing of solidarity … A lot of my book is about courage, and seeing yourself in a different light.”
Lucas’ spirit appealed to breast cancer sufferers around the world and led to international speaking engagements, as well as a movie on Lifetime starring Sarah Chalke from “Scrubs” and singer Patti Labelle.
‘Taking care of women’
Lucas, who is about to celebrate 18 years of survivorship and is now the mother of two children, will speak at the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group’s annual Celebration of Life luncheon on Friday in Vail.
“I’m so proud of your community,” she said. “This luncheon has been going on for 19 years, and 19 years ago it was a very different world for breast cancer. There was no Sheryl Crow, no Lance Armstrong. Women didn’t support it the way they do now. It’s revolutionary how this community came together, and to have this longevity with this luncheon. I admire their dedication to taking care of women and each other.”
While luncheon organizers generally reach out to potential speakers, this time the reverse happened.
“What is so cool is that Geralyn actually contacted us — she is a frequent visitor to Vail with her family and she had read about our efforts on our website,” said Kristin Kenny Williams, president of the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group. “Here is a breast cancer survivor and advocate, successful New York City businesswoman, mother and wife who expressed overwhelming gratitude and awe for our grassroots efforts here in Vail to raise awareness around the importance of early detection. She has dedicated so much of her own personal and professional time on such a grander scale, yet she was reaching out to us saying, ‘I am so impressed with all that you do.’ It says to me that, ‘Yes, every small community effort can make a difference!’”
And make a difference it does.
Closing the GAP
At last year’s luncheon, the group announced the creation of the GAP Fund — $50,000 donated to the Sonnenalp Breast Diagnostic Imaging Center at the Shaw Regional Cancer Center for those who need additional diagnostic tests.
“Unlike donations that we had previously made that were spread over several years, we wanted the money to be used in one year,” Kenny Williams said. “We were shocked to learn that many women, although insured for their annual mammogram, were not following through with additional diagnostic tests — if necessary — due to their deductible or the additional payment that might be required.
“These women might get that terrifying follow-up phone call saying ‘we think we see something’ but when they look to their insurance, to their deductible, most times they decide that the gap payment is too big,” Kenny Williams continued. “They then face the risk of waiting another year until their next mammogram, which is covered by insurance.”
Since announcing the donation almost a year ago, nearly all $50,000 has been given out, and 70 women have received treatment. The specific numbers will be announced at the luncheon on Friday.
‘Her life would have been saved’
While Lucas was the first in her family to be diagnosed with breast cancer, she unfortunately wasn’t the last.
“I just lost my cousin, who was only 42 years old, to breast cancer,” she said. “She died May 30. I was in the room. She went through torture for three years. She was misdiagnosed with a regular mammogram. She had dense breasts and the mammogram was unreadable. Her gyno got a note saying it was unreadable, but she was never informed. By the time she was diagnosed, it was too late. It had spread.”
Something such as the GAP Fund could have benefited Lucas’ cousin, she said.
“She was asked, ‘Do you want further testing?’ and her insurance didn’t pay for it,” Lucas said. “A lot of women are put in this situation where extra testing isn’t routine, so this GAP Fund is extremely important.”
Lucas is especially impressed with the new 3D mammography that’s available at the Shaw Center.
“There’s this myth that New York City has the best medical care, but we’re not getting 3D mammograms,” Lucas said. “If my cousin had that benefit, her life would have been saved. So much of life is luck and timing, it’s a wonderful thing now that this community has this state-of-the-art technology.”
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.