An intimate & inspiring journey, through breast cancer & tattoos

I asked one of our Cowgirls vs. Cancer alumnae to share her intimate and incredibly inspiring journey that she has made art, in the shape of tattoos on her breasts. Read this beautiful story and revel in the power of the human spirit. 

There is nothing beautiful about breast cancer. From your first mammogram as you watch your breasts get smashed between two plastic plates, followed by laying on your stomach in an MRI machine, then on your back for an ultrasound, finally you stick your breast through a hole in a table to get a needle biopsy. You are left sore, bruised, and emotionally depleted. All of this happens before treatment even begins.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I was still recovering from a postpartum hemorrhage and hysterectomy that had occurred seven months earlier with the birth of my third daughter. I had a scar that ran from my pelvis all the way up to my breasts. Having just lost my uterus, the news that I would be losing both of my breasts was completely devastating. More than the cancer, losing everything feminine about myself in under a year was more than I could stand.

For three years I was completely in the flight or fight response, and I chose flight. Each day I ran for miles trying to outrun all of the emotional and physical scars I was recovering from. Unfortunately, no one can run that far. I ran and won ultra-marathon distance races, and ran more than 90 miles every week just to distract my mind from everything I had been through. It was never enough.

My sister nominated me for Cowgirls vs. Cancer and it was finally my turn for a calm in the storm. I have spent so much time running away from all of the trauma I have endured, my time in Montana was an opportunity to reflect and embrace the changes I had gone through, in both mind and body. After losing two babies to stillbirth and having a daughter born blind, getting breast cancer so close to losing my uterus was completely unbearable for me.

Since my time at my Cowgirls vs. Cancer retreat I have turned a new leaf. I still run, but it is now for fun. I don’t try to lose myself in a glass of wine or a 50 mile run. I finally feel like the girl I was before this long list of trauma came along and took over my life.

I was still left with horrible scars and I knew I needed to do something about them, but I had no idea what that was. Growing up in a very conservative household, I’ve always disliked tattoos. With my reconstruction, I knew eventually I would get nipples tattooed on my breasts, but my reconstruction was a long process. After getting my third set of breast implants it was finally time to decide what to do. My scars and keloids were so thick and uneven that getting a nipple tattooed in the middle would only make them stand out more.

At this point I stepped way outside of my neat and tidy little box and decided to not only get a tattoo, but an entire chest piece. For over a year, night after night I poured over pictures on the internet of every tattoo imaginable. Finally I had narrowed thousands of photos down to a few ideas and met with several tattoo artists. Eventually I found the one artist that shared my vision.

I showed her all of my pictures, before, during and after surgery. I let her know that yoga was a central part of my life and I wanted to reflect that in my tattoos.

On my right breast I chose the tree of life with a woman sitting in the lotus position. For me this brought femininity back to a body that had been ravaged and stripped of all things female. Through her leaves the seasons change in vibrant color and hue just like our lives. The eye represents my daughter who was born blind but can now see, her name is Grace and she is completely amazing. The blue throat chakra represents my daughter who is a selective mute, my many illnesses caused her to stop speaking due to anxiety. She is beginning to talk again and it is magical. The long blonde curly hair is for my youngest daughter, it looks just like hers. The “S” on the trunk is for my baby Sarah who was born asleep.

On my left breast I wanted to represent my Celtic heritage while still having the protection of a Hamsa. When I teach yoga I use the Hamsa prayer in almost every meditation and it holds a very deep meaning to me:

Let no sadness come through the gate,
Let no trouble come to these walls,
Let no conflict be in this place,
Let this home be filled with the blessings of joy and peace.
The horseshoe in the middle is a reminder of my love of horses. A reminder that when I am presented with the flight or fight response I need to fight – when I run away all of my problems are still there when I return. It also reminds me of Montana and a very special group of women. Women who gave of their time, talents, and finances to support women they had never met. With gentleness and kindness they helped to heal me as much as my physicians; having a healthy body is a wonderful thing, melding it with a healthy mind is bliss.
As someone who has disliked tattoos her whole life, my only regret is waiting so long to get this done. I used to dim the lights before I took my shirt off at the end of each day because I could not stand to see what I looked like. I was ashamed of how I looked, and seeing the scars gave me such mental anguish that it was physically painful. My tattoo artist made a piece of art just for me, she included every single thing that I love and represented in it in a way that makes me feel amazing, feminine and even a little sexy. 
Now when I take my shirt off I walk into my bathroom and turn on all the lights as bright as they will go and stand in front of the biggest mirror in my house. A giant smile crosses my face as I look at my favorite piece of art in the entire world. 
Would I do it again? Absolutely!
Although I’m going to have to deal with breast cancer for the rest of my life, I feel completely beautiful doing it.