Breast Cancer Related Tattoo Art
It is an unfortunate fact that breast cancer touches all our lives. In the past several years I have had the opportunity to meet and work with some outstanding people whose lives have been forever shaped by their encounters with the disease, and this page is a record of some of the work that resulted.
A woman came from the midwest and asked for just the simple pink Breast Cancer Ribbon as a memorial for her mother who had recently passed on after a long battle with the disease. I asked that she let me design something Celtic to add to the ribbon, and this is the design I came up with. An endless knot of remembrance.
I have since done it for another woman on her lower back, also as a memorial for her mother.
The art is available for purchase in my LuckyFish Art store.
I was contacted by Christine Rayner, a woman in England who had just finished publishing a memoir of "One Woman's Spiritual Journey through Breast Cancer." She asked me for permission to use the design on the dedication page of the book and I was happy to grant permission. How pleased I was when I got my copy of the book and saw the Amazon on the cover accompanied by her faithful Irish Wolfhounds! Synchronicity!
This book is most of all a love story, an amazing deep memoir of the time the author spent undergoing treatment for breast cancer and the way she and her husband faced it together. I am honored to have been asked to be a part of it. Christine Rayner is a rare spirit, endowed with the gift of acute perception. Her extremely sensitive nature caused her to experience depths of anguish and fear in this medical event, and her courage gave her the strength to write her inner feelings down to help others when they face the same trial. This is a book for anyone who faces a medical crisis, their own or that of a loved one. If everyone had a support system like Christine's husband became, their lives would be blessed. With his help, and that of her network of friends, she emerged from the treatments a whole person, battle scarred and ready to go forth and do what she could to help others through similar circumstances. If attitude is half of healing, and faith is half of love, this book stands as a testimony to the way Christine made a very conscious choice to believe that she would be healed. Despite her natural fears, she held to the belief that she would be well, and her reward is to be with us now to share her inspirational story.
The author also now has a website at www.braveamazons.com where you can learn more about her and the book.
Then John Gann came on the train from the deep South to get a memorial for his beloved wife Karen who had died the year before. He got a pattern that held special significance for him and his wife, the labyrinth of Chartres cathedral.
Karen raised money to have a labyrinth built in her church, St. John's, and here you can see photos of the completed pattern and her walking it, meditating on a rainy day.
By placing the pattern on his upper thigh John could trace it and think of Karen, and feel close to his soul mate taken from him too soon. Tattoos like this transcend mere affinity and achieve a level of meaning for the wearer that allows the spirit of the one gone to live on, as long as the one who loves them is still on this earth. It is one of the parts of tattooing that is a source of humility for the artist, to feel a part of such enduring love, and to serve it. One year later John was diagnosed with cancer and also died. I know in that last year of his life the tattoo was a solace to him, and now he lies beside his beloved Karen in the cemetery at St. John's. The powerful spiritual symbol of the labryrinth has given inspiration and renewal since the 12th century, and can be experienced online in an electronic version at labyrinthonline.com.
I have also carefully drawn the pattern out for use as a tattoo and have it for sale on my LuckyFish Art Flash Store.
Several years ago a woman came who had had a mastectomy but opted not to have a reconstructed nipple and wanted a Celtic knot there instead. I did this for her. Basically just a dot of art to replace the areola.
A different and compelling challenge was presented to me by Mary, who had a breast removed for cancer and decided not to have the implants at all. She came to me and asked for a round Celtic knot to mitigate the appearance of the scars on her chest left from the surgery. We consulted about art choices, and then she had the second breast removed also so we had to wait for her immune system to be ready for this project. Over a period of several months we did the two Celtic circles, and now she is ready to be a topless wonder at Burning Man every summer!
But it wasn't until the fall of 2002 that I got my greatest challenge. I have to admit that if Beth had been a different person this transformative work could not have taken place. But she is a real trooper, and was willing to come and do many sessions to achieve this result, and I promised myself when we finished that I'd make this page to showcase the finished product. You will be able to see in the following sequence of photos how we took her scarred breasts, clearly showing the surgical marks and not symmetrical in shape after a double mastectomy, and made them into a lovely floral permanent bra! When we started she was rather like the lady with the Celtic circle, she just wanted two pink primroses to replace the nipples. She'd had enough of surgeries, and didn't want reconstruction, just a bit of art to help with the visual affect. I talked her into a blue monarch butterfly and we had a discussion about how covering the entire area with flowers would camouflage all the surgical scars. After a couple of weeks she called me back and said she was ready to go for it. She has given me permission to post these photos here because she wants to help other women realize that there are options other than just living with the scars. Realize that these photos are taken at intervals, and they represent many weeks of sessions to achieve this result:
For a woman who opts not to have an implant, placing art over the scars can be a way to achieve wholeness and balance again. "Ruby" was left with the usual puckering and surface distortion on her chest, and adding the powerful La Tene spirals and Lunar Goddess pattern was a way to take the emphasis off of them and celebrate the beauty of her survival. We can never erase scars, they are the marks of our successful survival, but tattoos have the power to make a statement of beauty that puts the visual focus on the positive. The pattern this tattoo is based on is available in my LuckyFish Art Store.
This woman in the photo below came in with extensive scarring and had also opted not to put in an implant, so we designed a dandelion flower corsage to flow with that section of her chest and camouflage the surgical lines. This photo shows before and after.
And lastly, I was contacted by Patricia O'Grady and asked to serve as a resource person about tattooing for her book The Guide to Breast Reconstruction. Because so many women are seeking information about their options for tattooing after surgery, I did a long interview with her on the topic. You may read it here.