My Mastectomy Tattoos: Hi- Am getting... - SHARE Breast Canc...

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My Mastectomy Tattoos

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Hi-

Am getting chest tattoo w/ birds, butterflies, flowers. (My implants were removed, so I'm living flat now.)

I want to add a saying as well. Which of these sound better?

Thanks for your input!

"My breasts do not define me as a woman."

Or

"My beauty is not defined by my breasts."

-Seena

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BklynCatwoman

Congratulations on getting your tattoo. I've had one for a few years--I got it a year after my mastectomy and failed tissue expander insertion (I never made it to an implant because of a very bad infection).

The decision of what words to get is a very personal one. But keep in mind that script/print/words spread a bit over time, like any tattoo, and might become a bit fuzzy and unreadable, as with any tattoo. Also, since the tissue is scar tissue that they will be tattooing, the result sometimes isn't flat and perfect on the imperfect "canvas" of our skin.

I know you will decide what's right for you. In case you're curious, here's the link to an essay I wrote about my tattoo: ravishly.com/2015/02/04/wak... (there are photos as well.) I've copied and pasted it as well below:

In The Wake Of My Mastectomy, I Got A Tattoo

CATHERINE GIGANTE-BROWN | 02.4.15 1:44PM

@BKLYNCATWOMAN

On April 25, 2013, I was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram. The news hit me like a left hook. I was shocked, numb, scared. Immediately, I felt like a victim.

Next came a surreal swirl of events: a mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, then a horrible infection that delayed my chemotherapy. The tissue expander they'd inserted to begin the reconstruction process had to be removed. Instead of a perfect fake breast, I had a concave, empty space where Leftie used to be. Now, I looked even more battered and defeated, instead of like the Amazon warrior I needed to be.

But I had more important things to worry about. Like not dying. Even though I was Stage 1 and my chances of survival were 86%, I obsessed about my 14% chance of not living through this ordeal. I adopted the Alcoholics Anonymous "one day at a time" credo, determined to wake up each morning and make it through the next chemotherapy infusion, the next doctor's appointment.

By some miracle, I did.

As I write this, I am 15 months post-chemo. My hair has grown back. I've become less afraid and can live my life in more than one-month increments—planning any further than a month in the future used to make me hyperventilate.

But I am faced with a new reality, with a different woman I see in the mirror. A damaged woman. A jigsaw girl with a missing puzzle piece. A woman with a divot and a jagged scar where her left breast used to be.

I tried hard to convince myself to revisit plastic surgery but the very thought of it made me extremely anxious. Would I get another infection? Would they be able to close me up this time? Would I be able to weather at least two more surgeries and the painful months of the reconstruction process?

My answer was no. I couldn't. I wouldn't. I didn't want to. But still, there was that broken woman who stared back at me in the mirror with a slouched, almost apologetic posture.

After much soul-searching and deliberation, I decided to turn a negative into a positive. I decided to turn my scar into a badge of survival. I decided to get a tattoo.

I surfed the Internet, combed through Pinterest, Babble, and Instagram. While my fourteen-year-old son suggested a dragon (at least, to him, I was a fierce cancer warrior), I sought something more symbolic. You see, I was diagnosed in the middle of cherry-blossom season. Very soon after receiving that terrible news, I remember standing in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, looking up into a canopy of vibrant pink and wondering if I'd ever see another spring.

I decided that my tattoo would be a cherry blossom branch which not only traced the lines of my scar, but embraced it. I just had to find a tattoo artist willing and able to help me bring my vision to light. I began shopping in a field that was dominated by men. Besides someone with talent, I needed someone sensitive to what I had just gone through. I needed a woman.

I found just what I sought in the skilled hands of Gen "Pistol" Gordon of Guts'n Glory Ink in Rosendale, New York. I knew it the minute I walked into the shop, which was bright, airy and inviting. Maybe it was Sagan, the cool pooch who stood guard. Maybe it was Gen herself, a School of Visual Arts graduate and self-described nerd, who resembled Bettie Page's adorable, slightly bookish younger sister. Maybe it was the way Gen looked at my scar, without disgust, or the way she touched me, softly yet solidly. I was no longer a cancer victim. To Gen, I was a flesh canvas that she could transform into something beautiful.

On September 27, 2014, I began that transformation. Gen created an exquisite custom-drawn cherry blossom branch, using the pictures she'd taken with her iPhone for reference. Gen transferred the design onto a stencil and gently pressed the stencil to my chest, warming it with her hand so it would take better. When she began tracing the outline with her tattoo needles, I felt very little pain-more than 18 months later, my scar was still numb. But what I did feel was a metamorphosis.

I thought I would cry; I didn't. Maybe I had cried enough. Maybe I was done crying.

After the first tattoo session, Gen and I were only halfway done. She didn't want to overly traumatize an area of my body which had seen enough trauma. A bold black outline masked my scar, snaked around it, defied it.

Even with my tattoo half finished, I felt differently about myself. Maybe it was my imagination but I began walking taller. I began to feel more sensual. I had a secret under my shirt that very few people besides my husband, me, and Gen would probably ever see in person—but it made me feel almost whole again.

On October 18, Gen finished my cherry blossoms. I'd turned 55 a few days earlier, marking two birthdays since my diagnosis. It seemed a fitting gift to myself. I stared in disbelief at the reflection in the tattoo shop's mirror. A strong, yet delicate branch, bursting with persimmon-colored flowers caressed my mastectomy scar, symbolic of my rebirth. It gave me strength. It gave me ownership. It gave me hope.

People tell me that I'm an inspiration. That I'm brave. That I'm awesome, cool, and gutsy. But mostly, I tell them that I'm a little bit vain. I just got tired of looking at my scar in the mirror—and decided to do something about it.

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in reply to BklynCatwoman

You have expressed my feelings exactly! I have a right to not have scars and feel beautiful again. Vanity is okay no matter who we are. I already have some body tattoos, so this isn't new to me. I've veen looking at some lovely hummingbird & flowers designs. I love the image of a hummingbird sucking nectar out of a flower. I think that would be awesome on my barren chest.

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BklynCatwoman
BklynCatwoman
in reply to Hidden

That image sounds beautiful. Maybe you can even find a tattoo artist who can custom draw a design to fit the lines of your scar. Have you chosen an artist yet?

My tat inspired an older woman in one of the SHARE support groups to get her own tattoo. She already had a bird on one side of her chest (it was probably 30 years old) and she got a beautiful tree branch that the bird is now perched on.

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in reply to BklynCatwoman

I have someone at Lark Tattoo in Westbury. Her name is Heather. I already have tattoos from her. We've been collaborating on my design ideas. She's seen my chest area & scars, so knows the challenges. The owner of Lark Tattoo, Bruce, is also very accommodating. They have a private room in their facility. My first session is next week!

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BklynCatwoman

Fantastic! You have it all under control. Exciting you're starting next week.

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Cu4281

I am beautiful 💪 I am woman

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Hidden
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in reply to Cu4281

Thank you

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Cu4281

I have been thinking of tattoos over mine too🌼.

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Hidden
Hidden
in reply to Cu4281

There are ao many amazing designs on the Internet.

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Cu4281

bing.com/images/search?view...

Like this long life Chinese symbol

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Hidden
Hidden

I also like the Hebrew chai for Life

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Cu4281
Cu4281
in reply to Hidden

I like that

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BklynCatwoman

You'll know exactly what's right for you. I look forward to you sharing it with us when it's done!

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Hidden
Hidden

Monday is big day! Will just do outline.

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Cu4281

Go for it

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gladudey

Hi, Celebrate tomorrow! I think it's great! Know Cathy and she's terrific. Seen many beautiful designs and I think it's wonderful to be living now and doing this... Mastectomies have progressed a lot. These are not my mom's horribly scarred radical mastectomies of 50 years ago! And not the horrendous looking bras and awful prothesis of that time. Enjoy the new you!!!! If you are in NYC, come visit us at SHARE! Best, Gladys

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Hidden
Hidden

Well, My tattoo artist is Heather at Lark Tattoo in Westbury. I don't know who Cathy is.

Also, masectomies are horrific and mutilating even in 2018. Easy for people to say how we've come a long way since our parents. My mother had one breast removed in the 1960's, and I had both removed in 2016.

We'll come a long way when mastectomies aren't necessary & when cancer is eradicated.

The new pocket bras and prostheses are all awful.

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BklynCatwoman
BklynCatwoman
in reply to Hidden

The whole idea of a mastectomy is horrible, I agree. I felt that I looked mutilated...but the tattoo made me feel "more than" rather than "less than."

I don't know, I've found some cute pocket bras--camisoles from my supplier in Brooklyn (Arimed) which are covered by my insurance. Plus I discovered a great site that sells bras and other accessories (Park Mastectomy Supply, parkmastectomy.com/). They're helpful and not too expensive.

Also, have you tried Awesome Breast Forms? It's a great organization which makes (knits and crochets) breast forms for BC survivors. I found their forms light and comfy plus made with love (and they make swimmies). Here's the link: awesomebreastforms.org/. I even wrote an article about them for Ravishly: ravishly.com/2017/01/27/str...

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Hidden
Hidden
in reply to BklynCatwoman

Of course I've tried all these bras & camis. Done

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BklynCatwoman
BklynCatwoman
in reply to Hidden

You might want to try the ladies at Awesome Breast Forms. They're very light and comfy. Sometimes I forget I have one on.

Seena, I know this is all relatively new to you but after a bit of time, it becomes easier to deal with. I am approaching my five year anniversary. Despite feeling down sometimes (I miss Lefty!) and scared, I'm happy to be alive. Many people who were diagnosed around the same time as me are not. Or are fighting metastatic breast cancer.

--Cathy

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gladudey

Sorry you feel like this. My mom had two radical mastectomies by the time she was 56. The muscle and all axillary nodes were removed. Surgery was performed by a general surgeon. I was 23 and not knowledgeable. It was a time that moms didn't tell their children that they were going to have surgery. I found out that she was in the hospital. Pain was awful, diagonal incisions from shoulder to mid chest. All ribs visible under skin. I was 66 for my modified double mastectomy. Skin sparing horizontal scar. And mastectomy bras ? We are lucky in Manhattan. The one wonderful place that helps our ladies is run by two women, breast cancer survivors, with immense patience and knowledge. Yes, I wish my mom had the same experience I had. Hardly any pain and a quick recovery. Some of our SHARE ladies prefer not to wear a bra, others, me included, love them. Don't think that mom's scars would have allowed her to be a tattoo candidate.

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Hidden
Hidden

I'm glad you feel lucky.

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Bubba_6

Birds would be beautiful. You are now soaring like an eagle !🤗

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CancerkickerKathy

I like the second one. Make sure you post pics when done.

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