"I love you. I don't care what you look like. I just want you to be alive."
These are the words of encouragement Allyn Rose frequently hears from her boyfriend of five years.
Rose, a 25-year-old beauty queen and model, has decided to remove both of her breasts to prevent the same cancer that took the lives of her mother, grandmother and great aunt.
Although she has made a career for herself in a world that judges based on physical appearances (including winning the titles of Miss District of Columbia 2012, Miss Maryland USA 2011 and Miss Singery 2010), it is her insistence in putting her health first that makes her a true champion.
The road to surgery hasn't been easy, but Allyn is determined to follow through.
“Many people don't understand what a long and arduous process it can be to plan a mastectomy," Rose says. "I think the first and most important step is ensuring that you are in the right physical and psychological state for surgery. Your body will change, sometimes drastically, and you must have the right mindset to making good decisions and recover well.”
Before picking a date, Rose had to find the right surgical team, which can be tedious given that each doctor will discuss the procedure with you.
“Appointments are very hard, as mastectomies are not a pretty procedure," she explains. "They can be quite invasive and prone to complications. Surgeons must inform you of all the possible risks and just when you start to feel comfortable, you hear things like 'nipple necrosis' and it brings you back to the reality of this surgery.”
Rose credits her "very supportive" family for standing by her decision. After all, it's because of her family history that she is even considering it. Her mother Judy Rose, was diagnosed with cancer at 27 and 47, which she later passed away from. She also lost her grandmother and great aunt from breast cancer.
“My mother left me her journals and in them she speaks of what it was like to battle cancer. She never spoke of how hard it was, that she didn't want to have another surgery or was sick of treatment — it was always 'please God…don't take me from my children,'" Rose says. "And someday, I will be a mother and my greatest fear will be having to tell my daughter that she's going to spend the rest of her life without her mom. You have to have long-range perspective.”
Although the decision to undergo the procedure was straightforward, Rose admits to having some fear about life on the other side of the recovery room.
“Will I be able to look at my body in the mirror?" she asks. "Will I ever love my breasts again? It's frightening. We try so hard to look past someone's outward appearance, but we're lying to ourselves if we say that looks don't matter. They matter. And sometimes I'm terrified of who I'll be to myself after surgery.”
Rose finds comfort in speaking with those who have walked in her shoes. She is incredibly grateful to E! News' Giuliana Rancic, a breast cancer survivor who underwent a double mastectomy in 2011.
“She took time out of her busy schedule to counsel me, offer referrals for surgery and keep an open line of communication for the future if I ever needed her guidance. She is a true role model, in a world where there are very few. I feel honored to have met her and to call her a friend.”
Rose now hopes to share her own experience with women struggling with the same decisions and experiences that she has. She currently participates in the Susan B. Komen Race For a Cure.