Today is the one year anniversary of my bi-lateral mastectomy.
About 6 months ago, I met a man who would change the course of my recovery. David Allen, a brilliant artist, agreed to create a mastectomy tattoo on my right (cancerous) side, to help obscure scars. More importantly, to give me back the power of making a choice about what happens to my body.
I have never had a tattoo. It was never my thing. But something compelled me to research tattoos to cover mastectomy scars, and that search led me to David and his studio, Pioneer.
Something to know about David: he is a master of his craft with a multiple-years waiting list. He is also studying the connection between innovative mastectomy tattoos and their positive medical implications after breast surgery. He is even published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The fact that he took me on as a client is a long and lucky story, but let’s just call it fate. It has to do with an amazing film producer/director, Rachel, whom I have mentioned before. In fact, today’s session was filmed for the documentary.
Truth be told, I was not terribly interested in tattoos. What I am interested in, is taking something that makes me feel bad/sad and turning it into something beautiful, and a choice.
When I got cancer, I had very few choices. I needed a mastectomy and I was strongly urged to have chemo. I didn’t get to pick where my scars would be or to engineer the trauma that happened to my body. Even though the plastic surgeon did a stellar job crafting new breasts for me, I still avoid looking at them in the mirror or touching them. They make me sad and feel like phantom limbs. I see them and immediately remember the pain, the drains, the trauma of it all.
The concept of a tattoo was empowering. It put me back in the driver’s seat. I could take what I found to be a tragic part of my body and re-fashion it into something unique, lovely and mine.
I decided that I would get my mastectomy tattoo on May 18, the anniversary of my mastectomy. Take what is old and turn it into something new. One trip around the earth and a full revolution of my being.
I walked into the studio at around 10am, by myself. I wanted to choose a design without the input of anyone else. This was for me. David presented me with 5 options which I whittled down to 2. David was able to print a stencil of the two designs and I was able to see a rough version on my body. I chose Design #1. David agreed.
The tattoo process started and the first 30% didn’t hurt a single bit. I have no nerve receptors in my breast area from surgery so I felt nothing. Move to the ribs and the armpit and- YEOUCH! I consider myself a tough broad so I closed my eyes, engaged my ujayi breath and went deep inside myself.
Five hours and one topless sandwich sesh later and we were done. I hadn’t looked down at his work the entire time. I walked over to the mirror and was rendered speechless. Tears filled my eyes as I saw the part of my body that had brought me so much shame, become the beautiful roses that now adorn my body*.
It was a loaded day for all. David and I bore the brunt of the physical and emotional baggage, but my family and the film crew, who stayed throughout the day, felt wrecked, too.
As David worked today, he asked me how I coped mentally with the cancer fallout. I told him that what helped me the most is writing. This blog has brought me a sense of release that I am forever grateful for. Even if no one ever read it, it would still be my therapist, priest, best friend.
David is an artistic wonder and I am thrilled to have his art permanently painted on my body. But more than that, he is a gentle spirit who feels called to support women who have endured breast cancer treatment and I am humbled to share our profound connection.
Thank you David-
- I will post detailed photos of the tattoo once it is healed