How My Mother's Breast Cancer Changed Me

Miss America contestant Allyn Rose lost her mom to breast cancer as a teen. Today, she's made a controversial decision that she hopes will help her avoid the same fate.

Gina Roberts-Grey
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Although Allyn has been criticized by people who accuse her of harming her healthy body, she stands by her decision. And she has plenty of supporters. "A woman I saw at the gym told me I was absolutely making the right decision and that it helped save her life," she wrote in a Facebook post. "I left feeling so amazing."

Pushing for prevention

Not surprisingly, Allyn has become an outspoken breast cancer advocate. She chose breast cancer prevention as her platform in the Miss America pageant. She's also partnered with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the Tigerlily Foundation and Dig Pink to educate young people about cancer prevention. In March, she received the Women's Health Advocacy Award at the 21st Annual Congress on Women's Health in Washington, D.C.

Allyn's choice is likely to have a far-reaching impact. "I want women to know that breasts don't define your womanhood," says Allyn, who plans to have reconstructive surgery. "My mom had one breast, and she was the most beautiful woman I knew."

I treat my body like a temple

Allyn is committed to a healthy lifestyle. Her best advice:

  • Get a handle on your family history. Knowing what illnesses you're predisposed to can help you make smart decisions aboutscreenings.
  • Never skip a mammogram. "My mom [Judy] thought she had outlived cancer, so she skipped three years of mammograms," says Allyn. "[Her cancer] might have been caught sooner if she had kept up with the tests."
  • Be good to your body. "I treat my body like a temple," she says. "I try to eat a plant-based diet and seek out foods linked to a lower risk of cancer."

Who should consider a preventive mastectomy?
A preventive mastectomy may reduce your breast cancer risk, but it's not for everyone. "Discuss your family history with an expert in the genetics of breast cancer," advises Steven Come, MD, director of breast medical oncology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Here, the factors that may make you a candidate for surgery, according to the National Cancer Institute:

  • A history of breast cancer. If you've had cancer in one breast, you're more likely to develop it in the other one.
  • Family history. You're at increased risk if your mother, sister or daughter has had the disease—especially before age 50.
  • You have a genetic mutation. If you test positive for the genes linked to breast cancer, you're at increased risk.
  • You have a lobular carcinoma in situ. This condition, in which you have abnormal cells in the milk ducts, boosts your risk of developing cancer.
  • You've had chest radiation, which can increase your risk of breast cancer.
April 2013