I have always loved tattoos. Shortly after my 18th birthday, I walked into a tattoo shop filled with courage and a bit of cockiness. After studying the wall of images, I confidently pointed to a small cartoon devil named “hot stuff” and said, “Perfect!”
Many people ask whether or I not have any regrets about my first tattoo, but, honesty, I don’t. 23 years later, I look at it and smile. It’s a part of my history, a personalized scar of sorts.
Over the years, I have added other tattoos, so it’s no surprise to anyone that knows me that I decided to add one more. This one however, is the most meaningful piece of art I have ever added to my skin. It is a beautiful ending to a very difficult 6 years. Choosing to remove my healthy breasts because of my 87% chance of developing breast cancer is a decision I don’t regret for one minute. My BRCA gene mutation has forced me to make decisions that no woman should ever have to make. By choosing this tattoo, it was an opportunity to turn my mastectomy into a work of art!
After my mastectomy, I suffered complications with my reconstruction and endured an additional 4 surgeries. I was not interested in another operation to recreate nipples that would never look, feel or work like my real ones. That is when I knew that I was going to do things differently.
My search for a tattoo artist was a personal one. There are many talented artists in Montreal but I needed an emotional connection as well. After meeting with a few I met Meaghan Goeb. Her “realism tattoos” were spectacular and we bonded right away. I knew in that moment that she was the one! She was just as excited about this project as I was and I soon learned that breast cancer had affected her family as well. She understood that I was looking for a piece of art that would become an extension of my body, a new beginning. We both couldn’t wait to get started!
I decided on Magnolias and Cherry blossoms. Magnolias are very tough flowers that represent endurance, eternity and long life. Cherry Blossoms represent fragility and are a reminder that life is beautiful yet short. I gave Meaghan complete creative freedom with the design and colors. We spoke often throughout the month and when I went into the shop to see the final design and layout on my chest, it was above and beyond what I could have imagined.
The day of my first session I was up early, too excited to sleep. I had booked 4 hours. For those who have never had a tattoo that is a LONG time. I was prepared for the worst but hoping for the best. I no longer have feeling in my chest so I was hoping that maybe it would not be so painful. Well I was wrong! It was the most painful tattoo I have done to date. Thankfully, Meaghan and I got along great so the 4 hours were enjoyable.
After the second 2 hours session was complete and I walked to the mirror to see it fully finished, I could not believe my eyes. It surpassed all of my wildest expectations. The softness and realism of it looks like a painting. It feels like an extension of my body and I am ecstatic with the results. My scar has been transformed and I cannot stop staring!
With an interest in documenting this life altering journey I have been working closely with a videographer named Chris Alsop. Chris is producing a 10 minute documentary in an effort to raise awareness to hereditary breast cancer, mastectomy tattooing and accepting beauty on your own terms.
Although it was not an easy decision, I decided to share my journey because so many women that I have spoken with post mastectomy feel ugly and scarred. Many do not feel sexy anymore and I hope that my story can help change that. Society shows an unrealistic version of what beauty is. I chose to keep one breast scarred because I like the story it tells. I like seeing where my story began.
Remember beauty comes in all forms and I am embracing mine on my terms, scars and all.
You can read more about my mastectomy tattoo in the NY Daily News and in the Global News.