Allyn Rose lost her mother to breast cancer when she was just a teenager, so after the newly-crowned Miss District of Columbia competes in the Miss America pageant in January, she will undergo a double mastectomy as a preventive measure for her health.
Rose, 24, said she would rather remove both of her breasts than risk getting cancer, a disease she is genetically predisposed to because of a gene mutation carried by the women in her family. Her mother was first diagnosed with cancer at age 27, had her right breast removed, and then found a lump in her left breast 24 years later. She died at age 51.
"Knowing I am a carrier I just said to myself I don't want to put myself through what my mom went through. I want to be here for my kids' - no pun intended - crowning achievements," Rose said.
Rose, originally of Newburgh, Md., and now living in Washington, D.C., won the title of Miss District of Columbia in June. In 2011, she placed in the top eight at the Miss USA pageant as Miss Maryland. She said that the upcoming Miss America pageant will be her last with both of her breasts.
"A lot of people are confused when I say I'm choosing life over beauty, but it's beauty as a stereotype, the Hollywood idea of beauty, the physical attributes. I'm not going to let my desire to achieve those goals distract me from my own health," she said.
Rose's family are carriers of Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome, a rare disease that affects men almost exclusively, but is carried by females. Rose's mother carried the disease, for which there is a high correlation to breast cancer, she said.
"I met with my surgeon, and the doctors that treated my mom, and doctors are 50-50 with this," she said. "Some say you can put it off, you don't have breast cancer. Others say it is an incredibly wise decision, your mom was diagnosed at 27, only three years from where you are now, why not make a proactive decision?"
Rose's decision to be proactive was similar to an increasing number of women in America who decide to have both breasts removed as a precaution against cancer. A 2008 study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology showed that the rate of the procedure, called a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy, more than double between 1998 and 2003.
After making the decision to have the surgery, Rose said she became passionate about prevention and proactiveness. She has based her platform for January's pageant on the idea that everyone should be proactive about their health.
Rose said she plans to have the operation after she is done serving out her title with the Miss America organization, whether that is her Miss District of Columbia title, which expires next June, or that of Miss America, for which she would serve until 2014.
Rose said she was not afraid of life without breasts.
"There's been leaps and bounds in surgery over the last few years, in reconstruction, to make your body look the same as it did before. Or you can lose a nipple. If surgery doesn't go the right way, you could lose the entire breast. But I knew my mom my whole life with one breast, and she never let that stop her from achieving her goals of being a good mom and wife. So I said if I had to live my whole life with no breasts, I'd rather be alive," Rose said.
Miss America Contestant Will Lose Her Breasts
When she is finished competing, and finished with surgery, Rose said she hopes to go to law school. She graduated from the University of Maryland, where she studied government and politics, and hopes to work as a constitutional attorney in Washington. The scholarship from being awarded the Miss America crown would help her pay for law school, she said.
In the meantime, Rose has been working as a paralegal and a model, working for print advertising and QVC. She said she is thrilled to be representing Washington, D.C., where she now lives, in the pageant.
"I'm really looking forward to really being able to share my message with America. It's the most iconic swimsuit pageant in the world, and a year from now my body won't be the same body as it is then. I want to showcase that this is what my body looks like now. But if I were to win this, if I lose my breasts, it doesn't make me less of a Miss America."