Then Came Life: Living With Courage, Spirit and Gratitude After Breast Cancer
Geralyn Lucas is indomitable. Her first memoir, WHY I WORE LIPSTICK TO MY MASTECTOMY, details her fight with breast cancer and the resilient spirit that led her to wear bright red lipstick to the hospital for her surgery that morning. Her second book, THEN CAME LIFE, examines the life-changing events that actually occur every single day. She moves between the moments of right now and the reflections on where she has been. Her style is breezy and sometimes funny, but underneath the lightness are some important things to remember about life.
Situated in New York City, Lucas’s job as TV producer at Lifetime Television ends when the studio moves to LA, leaving her like a callous boyfriend. She becomes a stay-at-home mom, a tushy wiper as her son, Hayden, is being potty trained. She questions her usefulness, her ability to earn money, and her definition of self. She had cancer and survived horrible treatments. But what else has she done? “My work credentials felt so yesterday, now that I wasn’t in my job.” However, she discovers that what she felt was the biggest disappointment of her life is going to turn into new possibilities.
"THEN CAME LIFE builds on the first memoir, and in many ways is more courageous than WHY I WORE LIPSTICK TO MY MASTECTOMY.... Fighting complacency and the temptation to rest after the battle, [Lucas] offers lessons for living positive lives in an upbeat, believable tribute to women’s power and love for one another."
When she goes for her next mammogram, always a fearful experience, she takes along her 13-year-old daughter, Skye. As they wait for the results, Lucas recalls a photograph she had recently found of her mother and sees that she was “so pretty I couldn’t believe I was related to her.” Because Skye bursts out about how much she hates her looks, specifically her freckles, Lucas tells her the first time she had ever felt beautiful. After her mastectomy years earlier, she posed topless for a women’s magazine but was afraid the focus would be on the long diagonal scar. Instead, the image astonished her. She saw only her own eyes and her own courage. She saw herself for the first time and loved it.
Her 16th year of surviving breast cancer earned her a trip to a tattoo parlor, “wearing a flashing ‘Sweet Sixteen’ blinking tiara, jeans I had to lie down in to zip up” and underwear that both accents and hides her less-than-perfect body. It’s her cancerversary: 16 bonus years. This time, she has chosen needles and pain, “HEALED” spelled out across her butt, and to show women that “getting a tat hurt more than getting a mammogram.” She changes her mind after realizing she is so not healed, and her second choice for a word exemplifies who she is: confident, greedy for life, appreciative. And, as a nice afterthought, she pictures a far-distant mortician squinting to read the word and nodding.
Lucas also discovers a variation on the theme of Virginia Woolf’s room of one’s own: not a quiet reflective space, but rather a room filled with sweat, bikes and pulsing music. She finds that going to the SoulCycle room gives her control over where she is running. She is not running from anything anymore --- she is running toward --- and is perfectly in place, biking, spinning, pumping and toning her large butt. She uses her beautiful, brave cousin Hallie as the impetus for her renewal of energy and optimism. And the room that smells of grunge, exercise and exhaustion becomes her own.
She accepts her worrying, too. When she had cancer earlier in life, she thought it somehow would cure her of worrying because it would trump every other worry. It even became her mantra: Don’t worry; it’s not cancer. But in the final pages of this memoir, Lucas acknowledges that she still is a worrier. She believes that her fear of cancer and of loss is rightfully scary, and this gut-wrenching fear is how she knows she’s alive and fully invested.
The final picture we must retain has Lucas wearing red lipstick. When she gives speeches now, she asks each woman in the audience to put on her lipstick and make a big, Texas-sized red-lipstick wish to see the “really big version of herself.” And she tells them to look only for the beauty --- no flaws. She reminds them that seeing the journey, the courage and the beauty first is a choice. Her hope is that her daughter, wearing red lipstick, will produce a granddaughter, also wearing red lipstick, who will turn to her grandmother, who, of course, is wearing red lipstick. “A daring red-lipstick-wearing gene, a development passed down to new generations.” A genetic evolution.
THEN CAME LIFE builds on the first memoir, and in many ways is more courageous than WHY I WORE LIPSTICK TO MY MASTECTOMY. Lucas creates her own “purse list,” eschewing the bucket list that she believes is too popular and gritty. Fighting complacency and the temptation to rest after the battle, she offers lessons for living positive lives in an upbeat, believable tribute to women’s power and love for one another.
Reviewed by Jane Krebs on October 17, 2014