‘ Instead of a scar, I had a piece of art ‘: women on their post-mastectomy tattoos

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Seven ladies tell Gem Fletcher why going inked after breast cancer acquired them feel whole again

Sarah B, Colchester

I discovered a hardening in my breast in 2005, and although my GP wasn’t concerned, he cast me to get it checked out. It was a total collapse when I found out I had stage 2 breast cancer. I moved for the mastectomy, because I thought it gave me a better probability; and I had a reconstruction because I thought it would be less distressing to wake up with two breasts.

In 2012, I had a recurrence in the same breast. All the hard work they had done with the reconstruction had to be taken out, and I had to have radiotherapy. Sometimes you cannot have reconstruction after radiotherapy, because the skin thickens; but fortunately I was fine. There has know a lot of surgery over the past 12 years.

Deciding to have the tattoo done was an empowering act in itself. I worked with Julie from Flaming Gun in Colchester, and she was amazing. It should certainly boosted my confidence; I exactly adore looking at my tattoo and wish I had done it earlier. The repugnance of what really happened to me in those 12 years was written in the scars I discovered every day: me as a survivor, but likewise the surgery, the chemotherapy and the teat reconstruction. Every day I had to face the raw truth of what happened to me in the reflect. Now, my body artwork is something beautiful to look at.

Sarah G, Cheam

Photograph: Kate Peters

In March 2016, I moved for a number health check. I felt the healthiest and fittest I had in my life. I exited for the mammogram and simply waltzed in and waltzed out, because I check regularly that there are no clumps or protrusions. I got an urgent call from the consultant two days later, directing me to a tit professional, because I had a 7cm x 4cm malignant mass in my left breast.

I tried not to go into panic. I did my best to avoid searching the internet, as you read all these horror storeys. My breast surgeon was just so lovely. If I make a human connection with person, then everything feels easier and better , no matter what developments in the situation. Two weeks later, I had my mastectomy, followed by immediate reconstruction. It feels an insult to call what was left behind a scar; it was such a beautifully perfect fine pipeline. I was very happy with how it looked.

I thought I was comfortable with my mas post-mastectomy, but having the tattoo has changed me. As I started to recover, I thought about how I didn’t have a nipple there now, and it felt as if my femininity had been deprived away. I discussed nipple reconstruction and thought about having a nipple tattoo. But neither sense right. When I learned about the shift in the US, through which tattoo artists give up their day for free to support survivors, it felt like such a positive thing to do.

I met Dominique Holmes from the Black Lotus Studio in east London and we hit it off straight away. I knew what I had in intellect in terms of design; I missed it to be a living piece of art.

The night after get the tattoo, I went home seeing it was fantastic; then I looked at the “before” shot, which I was so glad I had taken. I’m more body-confident now than I had yet been. I feel as if I’ve taken control is not simply of my form, but of myself as a woman. I’ve taken a life-changing and potentially prejudicial ordeal, and turned it into a real positive.

I don’t think I wanted to go my life back before the mastectomy. It’s beyond a physical thing; it’s a psychological change, and a change for the better.

Elaine, Arklow, County Wicklow

Photograph: Kate Peters

You get sick of hearing “be positive” or” chin up, you will be fine “. Hold on a second: when you’re in my shoes, you can tell me things will be fine.

I was diagnosed on 2 October 2015 with triple negative breast cancer, two weeks after I find the clod. Given the choice, it’s the one you don’t want, because hormone and targeted medicines don’t work and it can keep coming back. After two and a half months of chemo, they decided the care was killing me quicker than the cancer was. So, in early 2016, I opted to have a bilateral mastectomy. I had a further six months of chemo and 25 seminars of radiotherapy. On four or five reasons I was admitted to hospital with neutropenia, a low-spirited white blood cell count. On one occasion I had sepsis and neutropenia. The medical team told me afterwards they didn’t think I was going to live. I was very, very lucky.

The doctor would not let me return to work, because there is a very high chance of this cancer coming back. I took early retirement and have lived life to the full. I built my barrel index- to visit all 32 counties of Ireland. I took up covering and “ve had my” firstly exhibition last year. Looking back, I can see I was close to burnout. Regrettably, it took cancer to slow me down. I have no intention of making this beat me.

I had my first tattoo when I was 21; it was a time when women weren’t really having tattoos. All my tattoos represent milestones in my life. After subsisting a bad pony razzing coincidence, I had a dragon tattooed on my spine; my half sleeve represents my family story; and when my daughter left home, we both got parallelling gecko tattoos on our paw. After my care I experimented mastectomy tattoos and placed me in the direction of Anna at Adorn in Shrewsbury, because she was experienced in scar work.

I had no intention of having reconstruction; it was just not for me. I recollect vividly the morning I left home to have the surgery and I look back myself in the reflect- I knew I would not look like this again. It was adaunting remembered. I love my tattoo. I adore it. It’s me claim me back from cancer. Not the consultant’s path , not the plastic surgeon’s way. My way.

Juanita, San Diego

Photograph: Wander Aguiar

When I firstly found out, I was 25 and pregnant. I was living in Hawaii, away from family, and scared. Then, 24 years later, it came back in my right tit. I am now a two-time breast cancer survivor.

When you lose your tits, it’s not beautiful. However, things are very different now: the technology and info are much better. If I knew then what I know now, I would have taken both breasts off and probably evaded the repetition. In 1984, they just jammed an implant in you and sent you back out into the world. I nicknamed my doctor Frankenstein, because I disliked my reconstruction.

I was also one of those patients who lost their hair for ever; I had been given Taxotere( a common therapy in the 80 s that culminated in permanent hair loss ). As meter has passed, I’ve learned to deal with that, and I am fortunate enough to be able to rock a bald-pated brain, but I was very uncomfortable with myself for 15 years. It’s been a long journey. A pile of beings don’t realise that when you have breast cancer, it takes you down mentally, physically and financially. This tattoo is by Shane Wallin from Garnet Tattoo in San Diego. It’s a badge of honour, a represent of all the afflictions and hard time in my life. My angel offstages are a symbol of show solidarity with my sisters around the world who have had breast cancer. There is beauty after breast cancer; it’s a pain journeying, and in some ways beauty hurts. But I feel happy and sexy when I look in the reflect now. I feel proud to be a woman- like I have been reborn.

It’s important to me to share my story. I want to educate ladies, and remind them to do their monthly check-ups and get their annual mammograms. It’s up to us to stand up for ourselves, and take care of each other.

Kerry, Shropshire

Photograph: Kate Peters

I was diagnosed three days before my 40 th birthday. I had a full mastectomy on the left side, with no reconstruction. For two years I lived with being flat on one side. None of the reconstruction methods were is ideal for me, my physique, my lifestyle and the plays I played. It left me feeling incomplete, and I found that really upsetting. You sort of get munched up, spat out- and off you go on your own. I was left conceiving:” Now what ?”

I didn’t feel the process was finished. I hated looking at my scar, and would include myself up so my boyfriend at the time wouldn’t see it. My self-esteem took a real knock.

Mastectomy tattoos gave me another option. In honour of my paternal grandmother, Iris, who lived breast cancer in the 1950 s, I had a beautiful overflow of irises as my pattern, created by Anna at Adorn Studio in Shrewsbury. Overnight, my self-esteem rocketed. Instead of a scar flogged across my chest, I had a beautiful, personal piece of art; I couldn’t be happier with it.

I would love to see mastectomy tattoos become more mainstream; I would have liked to have been pointed in that direction a little bit sooner.

Diane, London

Photograph: Kate Peters

I detected the relevant recommendations of tattoos as a organize of healing in Geralyn Lucas’s memoir, Why I Wore LipstickTo My Mastectomy. Tattooing enabled me to give my own stamp on my scar.

I was 29 when my left nipple started bleeding. I didn’t think much of it, but went to the doctor to be safe. As a precaution, they cast me for a mammogram, sonogram, MRI and then a biopsy. I had a very early diagnosis, but the cancer was extensive. It had filled my entire left breast.

I immediately started looking into reconstruction options. I knew I wanted the breast back, but nipple reconstruction never resonated with me.

I had never had a tattoo; I “d no idea” how much it cost, or how to go about finding the claim studio, or an master I could trust. So I placed it on hold. A few years later I found out about a tattoo happening in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where they were looking for women interested in being tattooed. They had brought together masters from all over the US who wanted to help women heal from a mastectomy. I solicited Roxx from 2Spirit Tattoo in the Santa Monica mountains, because I’d seen her run and loved it.

It was exactly three years to the day after receiving my diagnosis that I got the tattoo. The biggest revelation was that I had been avoiding looking at myself in the reflect. I had been averting my gazes from my chest and scar, without realising it. A weight was lifted, and abruptly I had this beautiful piece of art.

Jill, Colchester

Photograph: Kate Peters. Art Direction: Gem Fletcher

When someone says,” You have cancer”, the nations of the world rock-and-rolls for a minute. But once that was absorbed, I feel as if I is away quite lightly. My diagnosis was extremely fortuitous. I went to the doctor after noticing a change on one breast, which turned out to be nothing. During the mammogram, they discovered the other breast had a deep tumour, which I would never have been able to locate. I felt unbelievably luck that it had come to the surface.

They did the op, but later observe an area of spread in my chest, so I decided to have a full mastectomy. That was a fairly straightforward decision. I can’t profess the whole thing was ravaging, because it actually wasn’t; if I had been a lot younger, it would probably have been more traumatic. But it was painless, there was no chemo and it hadn’t spread abroad. The whole thing was very modernized. The hospital was fab, medical doctors were fab and the scars were fab.

I wasn’t interested in reconstruction, so I speculated I’d have a tattoo instead. It was the perfect pretext to get something I had always privately wanted.
My tattooist, Julie at
Flaming Gun in Colchester, was recommended by my daughter, who has a beautiful tattoo. It is therefore important to me to have a female tattoo artist. I had it in one baby-sit, and I got through a lot of Minstrels to try to give my intellect off the ache. After my procedure I had been left with a blank space; so to have something decorative and quite lovely was definitely an improvement. It built me feel much more confident.

* The UK portraits form part of the Reclaim project, which has been running for two years. The campaign is still open and looking forward to topics, particularly BAME women in the UK. Contact info @katepeters.

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