How I Turned My Mastesctomy Into Art

mastectomy tattoo

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.

mastctomytatDo you have a mastectomy tattoo or know someone who does?

Welcome Karen!

Lacuna Loft is excited to continue introducing some guest bloggers! These great folks represent a variety of perspectives on the myriad of topics covered here at Lacuna Loft. Before everyone starts really getting into the nitty-gritty of all they have to say, we wanted to introduce them a bit. Without further ado, here is Karen!

I removed healthy body parts. My breasts and ovaries were plotting against me. Cancer was lurking in the background so I dealt it a pre-emptive strike. Why? I tested positive for the BRCA2 genetic mutation. It gave me an 87% chance of getting breast cancer and a 50% chance of getting ovarian cancer. If you knew your chance of winning the lotto was 87% wouldn’t you buy a lottery ticket? Or if the pilot told you that you had an 87% chance of crashing, would you board the plane?

Until 6 years ago my father and I had never spoken of his family history. After his first cousin was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and tested positive for the BRCA mutation I learned the truth; my paternal grandmother and great aunt both died of breast and ovarian cancer. Both were in their forties.

Knowing I had a 50/50 chance of inheriting the gene mutation from my BRCA2 positive father, I booked an appointment with a genetic counselor and waited for an anxiety ridden two months for my results. My husband was and is very supportive and my kids (who were two and four at the time) kept me busy but I needed a support system of women who were living with BRCA mutations who “got” what I was going through. I needed someone to talk to who understood what the waiting was doing to me emotionally and mentally.

Armed with a positive BRCA test, I moved quickly to schedule a risk reducing hysterectomy including my ovaries and a preventative double mastectomy with reconstruction. From the moment of my diagnosis knowing I was at such high risk of getting breast and or ovarian cancer I felt fearful and panicked. My biggest concern was waiting too long to have these surgeries. I wasn’t going to let cancer get me! The odds were too high. I was booked for surgery within 2 months.

I checked online hoping to find other BRCA positive women and only found a handful of people going through the same thing. They have since become some of my best friends. One of those girls, Teri Smieja, co-author of Letters to Doctors and I decided to create our own community of support and information. We decided to start the BRCA Sisterhood on Facebook, a private women-only support group for those dealing with hereditary breast and/ovarian cancer.

BRCA mutation carriers face different issues than those diagnosed with cancer. They have watched family members die and feel like ticking time bombs themselves. Many still face judgment from their peers and even family members who disagree with the choices they are making. Whether choosing surgery, medication or surveillance, there is no right way to handle a diagnosis and the BRCA is there regardless of which path they choose. The BRCA Sisterhood is the largest BRCA support group on Facebook and to date has over 4000 members worldwide.

Earlier this year, I started the first BRCA support group in Montreal, Canada BRCA Chat Montreal is a group for women dealing with BRCA or any other hereditary breast and or ovarian cancer. The first meeting was very successful and I have heard from many women since, expressing interest in upcoming meetings.

My passion will not end here; I will continue to offer more support and create awareness for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. I will continue until a cure is found. Until women like me don’t have to remove healthy organs to prevent cancer. I guess that’s just another part of my DNA that is out of my control.