Allyn Rose made history earlier this year when she became the first model with a mastectomy to be featured in Sports Illustrated. But, for the 30-year-old, that wasn’t the start—or the end—of her story:
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time at age 27 and had a unilateral mastectomy. My father begged her for years to remove her other breast, stating that it was a “ticking time bomb.” She refused, feeling as if it was the last vestige of her femininity.
Unfortunately, my father was right and 20 years later, my mother was again diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer and ultimately lost her life. The last thing that I said to my mother was that I was going to make use of every day that she didn’t have.
And that is what I have tried to do. For the last 10 years, I have worked as an advocate for preventive healthcare. At age 26, after discovering that almost every woman in my family had lost their life to breast cancer, I underwent a preventative bilateral mastectomy, removing both of my breasts in an effort to prolong my life. My story made international headlines and I had the incredible opportunity to speak to my generation about the importance of defining your beauty, being your own advocate and knowing your family history.
Most recently, I have joined forces with the AiRS Foundation as their spokesperson to help spread awareness about the non-profit which financially helps women who have had a mastectomy to pay for breast reconstruction, and also acts as a resource and support system for women in all stages of reconstruction.
Sharing this message is important to me because I have seen first-hand what happens when you allow others to define how you see and care for yourself. For a long time after having a mastectomy, the idea of feeling whole and beautiful again seemed like an impossibility. And this is when I realized that representation matters. I had never seen a woman like me in the pages of a fashion magazine and I was letting the fact that I wasn’t seeing myself represented define how I felt about my body. So instead of waiting and wishing for the world to become what I wanted it to be, I decided to make it that way for myself.
I think the thing that most people don’t realize about breast reconstruction is just how invasive the mastectomy process is, but how fantastic women can look if they are given the choice of the right procedure, reconstructive tools and a skilled surgeon. I was incredibly fortunate to have my insurance company cover the costs of my procedure and give me access to the doctors and devices of my choice, but not all women are afforded that same opportunity. I have learned that many women are often left with unacceptable options for reconstruction, either because they don’t have insurance or can’t afford their co-pays. That is why I am so proud to join forces with organizations like the AiRS Foundation and their partner Allergan, who encourage women to be their own advocates and give them access to the reconstruction they deserve.
Being chosen as a Sports Illustrated Swim finalist was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Knowing that I was the first woman with a mastectomy to be part of a brand that, for decades, has defined American beauty was incredibly humbling. Seeing “Allyn Rose” and “Sports Illustrated” in the same sentence still gives me the chills. I was so touched by the positive feedback that I received from women all over the world who have gone through this procedure, are considering it or have a family member/friend who has done the same. I knew the impact that being part of this competition would have on me, but I couldn’t fathom the impact that it had on other women facing mastectomy as well.
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