Survivorship Tattoos

cancer survivorship tattoos

This post is brought to us by Jordan!  She’s a PhD student and a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor talking with us today about survivorship tattoos.

I survived Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014, during the second year of my PhD studies. Although I had top-notch medical care, I found the information resources for young adults with cancer—people between roughly 18 and 40 years old—to be lacking. As a result, after my treatment ended, I decided to shift my thesis work to focus on information needs in the context of young adult cancer.

In my experience, much of the clinic-based information I received presumed I had specific resources to cope with the logistical, emotional, and financial impacts of cancer. For example, a lot of the care recommendations from my clinic and lymphoma non-profits assumed I had a spouse or partner who could cook and clean for me, or that I could drive a car to get to treatment, or that my workplace would be flexible about my schedule for treatment. Not everyone has these resources, or knows how to work around lack of resources, and particularly not as a young adult!

The best information sources for me through treatment and survivorship have been my “cancer peers,” primarily other young adults who share more things in common with me than just a diagnosis of cancer. These peers have been essential sources to help me sort through and understand written information from the cancer clinic, or to supplement information from medical websites with insights from their own experiences. I now study the phenomenon of young adults learning to cope with cancer, identifying who their cancer peers are, and their processes of finding, using, and sharing information on social media during and after cancer treatment.

Let me get a little academic for a moment. Cancer is one of the more potent examples of what we refer to in medical sociological literature as “socially constructed illness.” So although each type of cancer has a verifiable pathology and diagnosis as a disease, the cultural notion of cancer as an illness is laden with much meaning, and not an insignificant amount of fear. In short, Western culture ascribes shorthand archetypes to cancer patients (e.g., bald, sickly, but usually saintly and good-natured in media portrayals), while at the same time assigning hurtful stigma to the deeply emotional and morbid inner experience of cancer.

For this reason, I had a hard time filling my dissertation committee, because some faculty I approached told me my work “sounded depressing.” In the same vein, some colleagues do not attend my talks at conferences because they “can’t handle cancer stuff” (which always makes me think, gosh, I wish I’d had a choice on handling cancer stuff).

Conducting my thesis study has been a huge part of dealing with my cancer stuff. I always enjoy meeting or talking with other survivors, as most of my work is interview-based. Also, I believe the work of ethically, respectfully, and accurately depicting the experience of cancer—particularly from the perspective of young adults—is a crucial part of pushing back on the cultural stigma of cancer illness. And there are a lot of cancer survivors, including us young adults, who are already pushing back on that stigma by talking about our experiences, or working as advocates.

One type of artifact that seems to be popular among survivors for coping with and moving past hurt and stigma is the cancer survivor tattoo. Please do an image search for this phrase! Many of the examples that pop up in image search are beautiful cover-ups for scars, from mastectomies or port implants or PICC lines. Survivor tattoos often incorporate colored awareness ribbons, and some have more personal symbolism worked into them. I find this phenomenon really empowering and interesting—so of course, I am now studying it, and I have interviewed a couple dozen people who have survivor tattoos. I hope to circle back to this community once my research is published, to share some findings.

I told Mallory about my study and she invited me to write this blog post, and I’m very grateful. Although recruitment for the study is complete, I am always happy to connect with new survivors. If you would like to receive updates about this study, the link to sign up with your email address is here .

You can find other posts on Lacuna Loft’s blog about survivorship tattoos here.

Stronger Than I Knew

cancer survivor tattoo

When I was first diagnosed, I turned to my husband and told him I didn’t think I was strong enough to make it through something so monumentally difficult. I didn’t think I had the strength to carry on and the hope necessary to face my own mortality. It turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong… I am stronger than I knew!

If you’ve followed my blog from the beginning you have seen my reflections on personal growth and how I have used this journey as an opportunity to learn more about myself and grow as an individual, a friend and a partner. The insecure woman living in fear who existed prior to cancer is gone. Cancer helped me find the power and self love within that I needed to make this life my own and live each day with purpose and happiness.

When I woke up today, the power of my growth and strength stopped me in my tracks. I was overcome by emotion. After everything I have been through, I cling to these emotions. They serve as proof of my journey — the reward at the end of the tunnel. I made it through a year filled with pain, struggle and heartbreak. Though I am far from unscathed, the strength and confidence I have gained is a priceless gift. I now believe that I am worthy of everything that life has to offer. No matter what my future holds and what challenges I must face, I know without a doubt that I am strong enough to survive and thrive!

The tattoo I got today represents all of this power I feel. I am stronger than I ever knew and I will continue to move forward, one day at a time. My story is not finished and I have so many more pages to add. I hope that my story will inspire you to live your life in the same way. Grateful for every moment and appreciative of your inner beauty and strength. Never underestimate yourself. You are stronger, braver and more beautiful than you ever knew.

Originally published on

My Cancer Survivor Tattoo Is Finished!

cancer survivor tattoos

Who knew that googling cancer survivor tattoos resulted in so many tattoos!  Some of them are your pretty standard ribbon but some are fairly elaborate!

After just another hour and a half of work, my official, young adult cancer survivor tattoo is finished!  If you missed my first post after I had the first round of the tattoo done, you can read it here.  That post is a bit more serious and goes through the story, message, and thought process that went into the design of the tattoo.

Having the tattoo completely done is really exciting.  I actually paid, left the tattoo shop while waving goodbye to everyone, walked a block down the street, and then turned around and walked back into the shop to give the tattoo artist a hug 🙂  It felt so strange to have the tattoo finished after having spent about 6 hours hanging out with a really cool artist!

This part of my journey is a difficult one…my body is cancer free but I still am learning to deal with the stress and anxiety that cancer and life’s heartaches bring.  One thing I’ve learned through the process of creating Lacuna Loft?  I am not alone.  There are thousands of young adult survivors out there, trying to find their new paths or trying to cling to the old ones.  Cancer survivor tattoos help to document all of this…and more.


What do you think of cancer survivor tattoos?  Would you consider getting one yourself?  I’d love to know if you got a tattoo or some other symbolic object/thing that represented your journey?  We’d love to hear about it!

P.S.  And a big thank you to Matt Stines at No Regrets Tattoo!

A Cancer Survivor Tattoo

Being a young adult cancer survivor comes with its challenges.  Once I shaved my head, I found that I very much enjoyed the counter-culture that included women with super short hair that I had been thrust into.  Now, don’t get me wrong…if you’ve known me for a little while you know that I have had short hair before.  Having a buzz cut though is a totally different experience as a woman.  It was fun playing with make up to balance the severe buzz cut and experimenting with some edgier outfits 🙂

As my cancer treatments ended, my hair grew back.  I was even able to grow it long enough to donate most to Locks of Love.  Still I actively struggle with my mother’s death from cancer and with my own survivorship.  From other important pieces of my life have been born two, very small tattoos.  I knew that this moment in my life needed one as well.  My mother used to say “Breathe Deep.  Fly High.”  Though taken from a television series that my family adored while I was growing up, I have always kept this phrase in mind throughout everything.  After much thought and planning, and a surprise move by my husband to get a designer involved, the final artwork was ready.




The tattoo isn’t fully completed but I thought I’d show you anyway 🙂  Tattoos aren’t for everyone but taking control of one’s life is.  Everything that we do into our lives and into our survivorship should be for the purpose of making our lives better…since as young adult cancer survivors, we know how hard and scary life can be.  This is my way of bringing some beauty into my everyday life and shaping myself for a better tomorrow.