Miss America contestant Allyn Rose, who is Miss DC, plans to undergo a double mastectomy after she struts her stuff at the Miss America pageant on Saturday. Rose is having a surgery to reduce her chances of developing the disease that killed her mother, grandmother and great aunt.
"My mom would have given up every part of her body to be here for me, to watch me in the pageant," she said between dress rehearsals and preliminary competitions at Planet Hollywood on the Las Vegas Strip Wednesday. "If there's something that I can do to be proactive, it might hurt my body, it might hurt my physical beauty, but I'm going to be alive."
If crowned, the University of Maryland, College Park politics major could become the first Miss America not endowed with the Barbie silhouette associated with beauty queens.
Rose said it was her father who first broached the subject, during her freshman year of college, two years after the death of her mother
"I said, `Dad I'm not going to do that. I like the body I have.' He got serious and said, `Well then you're going to end up dead like your mom.' "
She has pondered that conversation for the past three years, during which she has worked as a model and won several pageants, including Miss Maryland USA, Miss Sinergy and the Miss District of Columbia competition, which put her in the running for Saturday's competition.
She measures her age by the time of her mother, Judy Rose's, first diagnosis, at age 27.
"Right now, I'm three years away," she said.
Judy had one breast removed in her 20s, but waited until she was 47 to remove the other one, which Rose's father had called a ticking time bomb.
"That's when they found she had a stage three tumor in her breast," Rose said. "And that's why for me, I'm not going to wait."
She plans to have reconstructive surgery, but said the procedure has complications and there is no guarantee that she will regain her pageant-approved bust.
Preventive surgery is a "very reasonable" choice for someone with Rose's family history and a genetic predisposition, said Patricia Greenberg, Director of Cancer Prevention at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles. But her decision is also drawing criticism in the world of pageants, where contestants regularly go under the knife for a very different reason.
She also receives hate mail from beauty circuit die-hards who write to insist that she continue filling out her bikini.
Her brother, who works for an oncology association, said he sees the irony in a beauty queen choosing to give up her breasts but supports his sister's choice.
"For me what trumps everything is her living, hopefully to a ripe old age, as opposed to any ancillary things that she might lose from potentially winning Miss America," said Dane Rose, 31.
Rose initially said that if she won the crown, she would postpone her surgery until after her year as a title-holder. But while shopping for earrings to match her black velvet pageant gown Wednesday, she said she was now considering having the surgery during her reign as a way of inscribing her platform of breast cancer prevention on her body.
"I've been thinking how powerful that might be to have a Miss America say, `I might be Miss America but I'm still going to have surgery. I'm going to take control of my own life, my own health care,' " she said. "So I guess it's up to what happens on Saturday night."