“I want to call my next book ‘I Survived Cancer. But Can I Survive My Kids and My Grumpy Husband?’ ” quipped Lucas, 44, who on a recent Sunday was in the back of a New York City cab drinking chilled rosé with a group of girlfriends as we headed to a hipster Brooklyn parlor for celebratory tattoos.
Before such celebrities as Christina Applegate and Sheryl Crow helped take the edge off the C-word, Lucas was speaking out irreverently about the disease. Her 2004 memoir, “Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy,” became an international hit, as did the ensuing Emmy-nominated 2006 movie.
Now Lucas leads a growing number of Gen-X and younger cancer survivors who are changing attitudes toward a disease that was once a death sentence but now has more young survivors than at any point in history.
About 513,000 cancer survivors are ages 20 to 39, according to data from the American Cancer Society. Since 1999, cancer death rates for people in that age range decreased 19 percent in men and 15 percent in women. The declines in mortality rates are because of earlier detection and improvements in treatment, researchers from the society said.
“That data is completely shaking things up for young people,” said Lucas, whose jet-black hair and Jackie O sunglasses have made her the sassy face of cancer survival. “There’s a lot of real energy now with survivors.”
Lance Armstrong has his bike. Lucas has her lipstick — a metaphor for courage, for fighting back. Lucas was a quirky, female superhero during my own battle with cancer in 2006. I was a fan of her oncological brinkmanship and Bridget Jones-meets-breast-cancer mash-up memoir.
On TV, in movies
Lucas is not alone in her effort to subvert cancer’s stigma. Showtime’s “The Big C” stars Laura Linney as a woman who decides to live her life fully — having a steamy love affair, building a pool, and emptying her retirement account to buy a sports car — despite a bleak prognosis. This fall will see the release of “50/50,” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young radio reporter who has cancer diagnosed. The film co-stars Seth Rogen, who steals the show as the protagonist’s kindhearted and slightly overwhelmed BFF. (In one scene, he uses his bald, cancer-stricken friend as a wingman so he can play the sensitive male and earn the sympathy vote of women at a bar.)
The screenplay is based on real life. Rogen and Will Reiser were best friends as comedy writers for “Da Ali G Show.” Soon after, Reiser, who was 25 at the time, had a spinal tumor diagnosed. He survived and wrote a screenplay about how bizarre it was to have a life-threatening illness in the prime of life.