Of cancer and red lipstick

Of cancer and red lipstick

By Kathie Platt

Special to The Examiner


Geralyn Lucas, 20-year cancer survivor, author, speaker and mom from New York City was wowed by Texas-style chivalry as she was ushered onto the stage during her recent speaking engagement at the Gift of Life Survivor Celebration at the MCM Eleganté on Thursday, Feb. 4. In fact, she described everything about her Southeast Texas experience as an immersion in charm, warmth and hospitality. 

“I’m so humbled to be here today with so many survivors and supporters. In NYC, you never get this many notables in one room,” she exclaimed, awed by the over 500-strong in attendance for this 20th anniversary of saving lives in Southeast Texas. “You have the biggest hearts in Texas!”

Lucas, who now travels around the world supporting breast cancer prevention and awareness, added, “I have never seen a program like this. Every single community in the world needs a Gift of Life and a life force like Regina Rogers.

“‘Survivors need love,’ Regina told me when I first met her last October, ‘and the Gift of Life has been a 20-year effort providing love, the missing ingredient.’”

On this day, Lucas had come to the right place to share in a celebration of love and encouragement. 

“It was 20 years ago to this day that I finished my six months of chemotherapy and all I wanted was a party, a teddy bear and love,” Lucas said. “I believe it was a miracle that I was invited to come here today to speak and share in your 20th anniversary celebration of love and survivorship.”

Diagnosed at age 27 with estrogen-negative breast cancer, an aggressive and harder-to-treat form of the disease, Lucas fought back with attitude, optimism — and red lipstick. Today she exudes enthusiasm, generosity, love and just enough bravado to stare terror in the face (the terror of another test, treatment, diagnosis or setback). 

“This is not something I chose; this is something that was forced upon me,” she said. “I decided that living with risk would make me risqué. So I would wear red lipstick and do it my way.”

By choosing to wear red lipstick, Lucas determined to take back a part of herself. In her first book, “Why I Wore Lipstick To My Mastectomy” (2004), Lucas describes her inspiring journey (later made into an Emmy-nominated movie that premiered on Lifetime TV). In her second book, “Then Came Life,” (for cancer survivors as well as “anyone who’s survived anything”), Lucas writes, “In all that I lost, I gained even more. ... The doctor took my breast, my lipstick lasted. ... They took a body part, but I kept everything that mattered.”

During her presentation, Lucas traced her metamorphosis through victimhood (loss of a breast, surgery, radiation, chemotherapy) to victory, including giving birth to two children. 

“Every day is a gift for unwrapping. In the same hospital where I had had my mastectomy, I later had two C-sections,” Lucas shared.

The juxtaposition of those two scars etch her life’s story in physical form. 

“The mastectomy scar meant something was taken away; the C-Section scar meant I had been given something. Death and life were just inches away on the road map of my body. ... It was a huge leap of faith starting a new life when mine felt so shaky,” Lucas writes in “Then Came Life.”

Lucas understands intimately the dance with uncertainty. While in reality life is uncertain for everyone, those who have suffered a life-threatening illness that might return at any moment live with a heightened awareness of potential loss. And age 27, 57 or any age, the pressure of the unknown can be agonizing. Her survivor’s story offers encouragement to others.

“If I can encourage just one women and help her make sense of her journey, I will know why I’m here,” Lucas shared. That is the awesome power of one.

After her presentation, women lined up in the hall after the survivors’ celebration and luncheon for a book signing, some with arms piled high with Lucas’ books, bought to share with women’s groups, girlfriends and family. Lucas took the time to speak to every one, carefully inscribing each book with personal sentiments, reiterating words of encouragement as she connected with the women she had come to inspire and who had, in turn, inspired her.

“You are the reason I came,” she shared with the crowd. “And I cannot leave before I meet every one, even if that means missing my flight,” which she did miss.

Thank you, Geralyn Lucas, for sharing your honesty, empowerment and red lipstick with Southeast Texas.