Mastectomy Before Breast Cancer: One Woman's Choice

In a new book, TV writer Jessica Queller faces up to carrying the BRCA gene mutation.

Video: What Is Breast Cancer?
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Do you think of your life in two parts: before and after you knew you had the gene?

My life is separated by my mother's death and illness more than by the test. I'm still completely traumatized four years later by her death. The cumulative experiences put my life in perspective. My work is very stressful. I wish I had a husband or boyfriend. But the only thing not tenable to me is illness. That's a pretty strong world view that I didn't have before, about not sweating the small stuff. Your title comes from Stephen Sondheim lyrics: "Pretty isn't beautiful, mother. / Pretty is what changes / What the eye arranges is what is beautiful." What do those lyrics mean to you?

Growing up with a beautiful fashion designer mother, there was so much emphasis in my house on looking pretty. Pretty is ephemeral, prettiness changes, it is not true beauty. True beauty is internal and much more profound. As my mother's illness progressed, her vanity fell away and her real spirit and her love for her children took over. She would have done anything to live. You're single and looking for Mr. Right. How does what you've been through affect your dating life?

Right after my surgery, I met my ex-boyfriend, an amazing man. We were together over a year. He really cured me of my fears, about my body and about ruining the rest of my life. He made me feel beautiful and normal. I will be forever grateful to him. That relationship was a gift for me. He thought I was beautiful and brave—for other reasons, we didn't get married. Since then I haven't dated much. I won't go out with anyone unless he knows in advance about my mastectomy and reconstruction. I have scars, there's no hiding that. My friends set me up, and alert the guy in advance. I don't want to tell the guy about it over dinner. I've had some bad experiences doing that. It is a way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Only a sensitive, evolved mature man can understand.