This news article describes Miss District of Columbia from this year’s Miss America pageant’s decision to have a double mastectomy after she serves her year as Miss District of Columbia (the article was written before the pageant this past weekend). According to the article, Allyn Rose’s (Miss District of Columbia) mother, grandmother and great aunt died of breast cancer and this mastectomy will reduce her chances of suffering from the same disease. This decision has apparently caused quite a bit of controversy and has earned Rose some hate mail, as well.
Prophylactic mastectomies are apparently on the rise in America according to both the article above and this article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Breastcancer.org writes that a mastectomy can reduce the chances of developing breast cancer by up to 90%. This surgery is especially an option for individuals who may have a hereditary predisposition towards breast cancer. As my gynecologist told me, if you have the predisposition you have a 4/5 change of developing breast cancer. A terrifying possibility for any person (since men can also get breast cancer).
I kind of see why Rose is stirring up such controversy. A mastectomy is a huge step for someone who has not had any indication of cancer. She is drastically altering herself in order to prevent something that may never happen. Something she may even be able to treat without any major surgery or the loss of her natural breasts. I do not really understand the hate mail, but, without knowing the actual topics of the mail, all I can visualize is Dr. Todd from scrubs. Except, I do not think he would ever write hate mail, since he was a pretty nice guy. If a bit of a creep.
However, I think it is important to remember that in the end this is her body. Much like with any breast augmentation or other cosmetic surgery, I may not agree with it (and I may work against what I think influences people to do it), but I have no right to tell people they should not do it.
And, before anyone tries to tell me, I do see a big difference between what Rose is doing and more conventional cosmetic surgery. There is a real medical reason to do it and it is not all physical health, either. A large part of this, from what I can see, is a mental health issue from two angles. The first is a matter of control. Would she rather lose her breasts or choose to have them removed when it is actually her choice? Not a choice between life or death. Second, this surgery may remove a large amount of worry about her health. When your parent or other loved one dies from a disease there can be a constant worry about whether or not you will contract it. Any little thing can suddenly become a symptom or indicator of a disease. It can get rather exhausting even when that disease does not have direct genetic links.
In the end, this is a feminist issue, but not the way some might see it (at least in my opinion). This is a matter of women’s health. What is the best move for this woman and her quality of life?* If she is going to be happier after this, then more power to her. Her decision may have the added benefit of helping other women who have had to have mastectomies with their own body image issues.
*If you read the article, there is one part that makes me concerned. Her father comes across as a bit pushy on the topic, but this is a quote of Rose quoting him, so it may not have actually been said like that.