Allyn Rose, 24, the Miss America contestant from Maryland who will represent Washington, D.C. in the upcoming ABC pageant, has decided to undergo a preventative double mastectomy after discovering that she carries the same rare chromosomal illness that her mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 27, had.

"The idea that I could wake up one day and not have the same body that I did the day before is very scary," Rose told People. "But I also realized my mom was diagnosed at 27. That's three years away from me. I"m not going to let my fear of losing this part of my femininity stop me from living," she said.

Rose's ailment "manifests in male children," she explained, "but there have been studies that women who are the carriers of it have almost a 75 percent likely chance of contracting breast cancer. It's a very strange change in our genetic code. Almost all of the women in my family have passed away from it," Rose said.

And that includes her mother. "My mom had her right breast removed at 27, but at 47 or 48, it came back in her left breast," Rose said. "It was already stage three. She could have had that other breast removed, but I'm sure there was a part of her that thought she didn't want to give up this other part of herself. My dad said he begged her for years and years to get it removed, but she said no. It's ultimately the thing that killed her. I had to become my own mentor. I had to go pick out my prom dress by myself. I had to go to my high school graduation without my mom. She didn't see me go off to college or go on my first date or drive a car for the first time."

And for Rose, even the Miss America pageant is about life — not beauty — and educating people. "Title holders across the country get an opportunity to speak to their generation and have something they can advocate," she says. "Being in the industry and competing in the most iconic swimsuit competition in the world, I thought to myself, 'If I were to win and have this surgery a year from now, would I be a different Miss America because I lost my breast?' No," she said.

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