Strength and Pain in Lifetime's 'Lipstick'

Geralyn Lucas had it all -- or so it seemed.

Smart, beautiful and driven, Lucas came from a loving family, attended an Ivy League school, landed her dream job and had a handsome doctor for a husband.

She worked hard, had a great group of friends and was on schedule with her life plan. Lucas was a woman who always had a plan and the determination to stick to it. Then at 27, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. As anyone who deals with that diagnosis knows, cancer trumps all plans.

Lucas' story is told in Lifetime's "Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy" Monday, Oct. 23, based on her own book of the same title.

Sarah Chalke ("Scrubs") portrays Lucas as initially on a mission with her life, then on a mission to save it.

"She really tells her story in a way that I have never read," Chalke says. "It is so honest and goes into every aspect of what she is thinking about. It somehow is uplifting and empowering. She had me laughing and crying at the same moment. It's not that you don't experience her pain."

"She has such an incredible sense of humor," Chalke continues. "She finds out she has breast cancer and goes to a strip club. When it's time for the nipple reconstruction, on the morning of that she says, 'Who am I kidding?' She decides to get a heart at the end of the scar to represent her courage, and wings on the heart to represent angels. These are the very strong decisions that she made along the way that were so interesting, and the choice to wear lipstick in to her mastectomy. She wanted to be out of context in that sterile hospital room and be able to wear her lipstick as her war paint, as her courage. It is so powerful."

The movie lets us get to know the feisty Lucas, then an editorial producer for "20/20," before cancer. One evening, she ducks in for a quick shower before she and her husband, Tyler (Jay Harrington, "Desperate Housewives"), go out with friends. Lucas finds three lumps in her breast, and her physician husband, who considers her a bit of a hypochondriac, tells her that it's probably nothing. "Women are lumpy," he says.

Lucas confides to some girlfriends that after her next gynecological appointment, she will go off the pill because she wants to get pregnant. At that visit, her doctor does not detect the lumps, but Lucas mentions it, and the doctor insists she get a mammogram.

After the mammogram comes a sonogram and a biopsy. Lucas must decide whether to have a lumpectomy -- removal of the lump and surrounding tissue -- or a mastectomy, which is the removal of the breast. She tries to figure out why this is such a breast-obsessed culture, and where better to ponder this than at a strip club where women with gigantic breasts prance in G-strings?

Lucas seeks many opinions. Male doctors advise the lumpectomy, while females advise the mastectomy. All physicians, as if it is a mantra, say, "Of course, it's your decision."

Ultimately, as the title indicates, she opts for the mastectomy -- to which she wears red lipstick, though Lucas had always been a gloss girl. Red lipstick is such a statement and requires a certain amount of brazenness, which Lucas never mustered until the surgery.

Now 11 years later, Lucas still wears red lipstick.

"The days when it is hard day or I am going for a medical test, [my lips are red]," says Lucas, Lifetime's director of corporate communications, who runs the cablenet's campaign to educate women about breast cancer. "I had a C-section, and I made sure the lipstick was really on. It's always such a reminder that my life has gone on."

Indeed it has, as she is the mother of Skye, 7, and Hayden, 5 months.

Then, however, life was scary. Her parents camped out in the Lucases' small Manhattan apartment while she went through surgery. Her girlfriends were always there, sometimes a bit too often for Tyler.

What's so wonderful about this book and movie is that it does not attempt to paint Lucas as noble. Her immediate question after the initial diagnosis is "Will my hair fall out?"

Lucas has glossy black hair, but the filmmakers opted to keep Chalke blonde, as the film was made fast and three wigs were made to match the actress's hair. The different wigs reflect how Lucas looked at various stages of chemotherapy.

Though many authors bemoan changes to their books, Lucas has a sunny attitude about this as well. "I like the idea that she is blonde," Lucas says. "There is this universal quality of the experience. I kind of want women to know there is something in it for everyone."

Lucas, who recently turned 39, lives with some fear. "I do have this spot on my lung that they are monitoring," she says. "I'm going in two weeks for a little CAT scan action. I still do worry, and I still am under surveillance. I wanted to let other women know I had come through this. When I was diagnosed, everyone told me everyone they knew who died of it, which I did not find particularly helpful."

This movie is helpful, and will be even more so if it inspires women to take care of themselves.

"My hope is that everyone will do a self-exam," Chalke says. "The intent is not only to raise awareness, but also to take the fear away from the women who have been diagnosed because I think the way that Geralyn tackled her breast cancer, with such guts and courage and even humor at times, is going to give people confidence that they can get through it, too."