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Byline: Judith Newman
BODY AND SOUL
Dee Dee Ricks prized her looks, and her breasts above all. When cancer struck, she mounted a battle for survival, and for beauty.
Dee Dee Ricks cupped her breasts in her bathroom mirror. They were luscious, full, and firm. She didn't see why she had to apologize: Her looks were important to her. She loved her breasts. And tomorrow they'd be gone.
On paper, Ricks's life was golden. A kind of poster child for reinvention, she was a poor Southern girl with a difficult past who had willed herself into the wealthy blonde head-turner she was today, living in a multimillion-dollar apartment on the Upper East Side, with two cherubic young sons and a successful business as a headhunter for hedge funds. But here it was, 2007, and the problems were starting to pile up. She was going through a bitter divorce and single for the first time since her 20s, the stock market was headed toward a historic crash, and after a winter of broken pipes and flooding, the dream house she had bought in the Hamptons was looking more like a tear-down. Then, the discovery of a lump in her left breast. It was more than a house that would have to be rebuilt from scratch.
"I wanted my breasts to look normalbetter than normal."
Ricks, then 39, had both breasts removed on the morning of May 9, 2007, at a New York City hospital. "Not that I'd remember the date," she says with a laugh. Her doctor had discovered three tumors, ranging from small to intermediate in size, and all HER2-positiveformed of cells that produce an excess amount of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. Ricks was told her cancer was aggressive, with rates of recurrence significantly higher than other forms of breast cancer. Moreover, according to the Young Survival Coalition advocacy group, there is mounting evidence to suggest that women under the age of 40, in part because they (and even their doctors) are less aware of the risk, tend to be diagnosed with more advanced cancers than older women.
And of course, younger womenoften single, dating, still thinking about having …