Cancer changes you. Physically. Emotionally. It leaves permanent scars. Every woman who faces breast cancer follows a unique path on how to heal from it. I am going to write about MY path. I am not judging anyone else’s choices…but explaining why this was the best route for ME. I also know it’s a bit unconventional and want to share my process. Maybe my words can help someone else make their own personal decision. I couldn’t find much information online for women like me. (P.Ink was the most helpful) Women who don’t want to do reconstruction but also don’t want to leave their scars the way they are. Women who are looking for something a bit different and to create something NEW.
Well…information or not…I am scheduled on Friday for my first tattoo…to use my scar as a canvas for a piece of art.
I am excited. I am nervous. I’ve cleared it with all my doctors. I am ready. Here’s how I got here:
First let me start with…why reconstruction wasn’t for me.
When cancer is discovered and a mastectomy is the recommended treatment most often that breast (or breasts) are fully removed. In Dutch it is called a “Borstamputatie”…literally translated a Breast Amputation. Harsh but true. Typically, a woman is left with a blank space and scar where the breast used to be…so when she begins to think about moving forward a new breast truly is RECONSTRUCTION. There is nothing there. It is not “enhancement”. They need to build a completely new breast and it often involves multiple surgeries with many months of pain.
There are various ways to go about reconstruction and I will just briefly describe the one recommended to me so you get an idea. They suggested a silicone form for the breast…but you can’t just go straight from nothing to silicone…first they need to create a space for it. And that involves Tissue Expanders. Imagine a tire jack slowly lifting a car to create space underneath to change the tire. Tissue expanders work in a similar way. They are periodically filled with a saline solution to increase the volume and create more space for the implant. Women I know have described this feeling as having a rock in their chest they can’t remove and it can be very painful. Since I had radiation, there is a good chance my skin/tissue is so damaged that I couldn’t keep the tissue expander in place and there would be complications. They solve this by taking a thin muscle from my back (Latissimus Dorsi) and wrap it around the front to increase the strength of the area. Then they fill the expander over the course of 6-8 months (or longer) until I’m ready for my exchange surgery where they remove the expander and place the implant. There is always a chance for complications…and the recovery can take some time.
Many women choose the reconstruction route. The trauma of losing something so tied to what it means to be a “woman” is overwhelming. It can affect self-esteem and confidence. Reconstruction can be healing and a way to reclaim something cancer took. There are many many reasons to choose reconstruction. Again, there is no judgment from me…more power to ya. Go for it!
However for ME…reconstruction is completely unappealing. My journey with cancer was literal as well as metaphorical. I had cancer in my body. I had cancer in my spirit. I had cancer in my marriage. I had no idea. But once it was revealed I have spent the last 2 years carving it out…blasting it with chemo…burning it with radiation…removing it from my life. God has gone to work on my heart and soul and I am a completely different person than I was before I started. I never had the level of grief some women face after a mastectomy. I adjusted quite quickly…probably because with my body type I can hide it well. If you didn’t already know you can’t tell. My entire wardrobe is still available and in general I feel normal. This definitely makes it easier. I also considered the physical recovery and how much I enjoy running and being active. It would be difficult to scale back on those activities and to have a high risk of decreased movement/increased pain in my left arm. I thought through all these things but the biggest reason:
I don’t want to replace what has been removed with something fake…I want to replace it with something NEW…something beautiful.
I believe in a God who will create beauty from ashes…that is moving mountains…that continues to give me HOPE even when I can’t see the path or the end. A God that is writing a redemption story in my life much bigger than this tattoo. I don’t want to go backwards. I am moving into a new future. Pushing into uncharted territory. And for me that journey involves covering my scar with a tattoo.
I can’t see very far down the road but I can see Friday. And this Friday is a VERY big day. I started the design back in March and had a good idea of the direction I wanted to take it. It is a tree (of course) and I’ve attached a couple of my inspiration pieces. I knew I needed to find a very good artist to execute my vision and saw a piece in a magazine from Vicky at Original Sin in Antwerp. Somehow I knew immediately that she was the right person. (Side Note: I love that this redemption tattoo is being done by a shop called “Original Sin” – I think God has a sense of humor :-)) So I booked the appointment for May 9th. I just looked back in my blogs to try and remember what I was doing on May 9th 2012…and I didn’t realize it when I scheduled it but on May 8th 2012 my life took a nose dive…and this day 2 years ago was very VERY dark. How AWESOME to have this appointment to not only redeem the scar but redeem the day.
So, wish me luck for Friday. Now that I’ve told you I can’t chicken out. It is quite a big piece (~5 hours) in a very sensitive area. I know it will hurt A LOT but I’m ready. I have approached this like everything else on this journey…with a deep breath (or 10) and straight in. This pain will be temporary and I will have a piece of art to last a lifetime. I might need to take it in a couple sessions but we will see how it goes. I’m not sure how brave I’ll be to post an after photo…I will decide when it’s done.
If you are interested in more information on mastectomy tattoos check out the Personal Ink – P.Ink Pinterest page here.
Tree of life pen and ink – by Marcia Carole can be found here