One of the worst statements a woman can hear from her doctor is that she needs to have her breasts removed. While the chance to have a full life, cancer-free, is a beautiful sentiment, losing a breast is a devastating blow for most women. They are the symbol of womanhood; feminine and self-defining. After struggling with a diagnosis and treatment, being told that a mastectomy is the only option is often times heartbreaking.
While it can take time to wrap one’s head around the thought of losing the centerpiece of your body, it’s the after-fact that can the hardest part to swallow. Women’s clothing is shaped to fit certain body types, and society expects these body types to exist. Women, who are bombarded on a daily basis by supermodels in TV, magazines, and movies, have to learn to adjust to a life without a feminine upper torso—all this coming after the harrowing struggle of coping, and beating, cancer.
According to www.breastcancer.org, roughly about 12% of women in the United States alone will develop invasive breast cancer. While that number may not sound high off the bat, you have to put it into a size perspective: 12% equates to approximately 1 in every 8 women. Now think about your office. Most likely there are more than eight women working there, so that means at least one of the women you work alongside will develop invasive breast cancer. That’s just invasive—that’s not including milder cases which do not require a harsh treatment plan. Scary right?
If you continue to look at these statistics, you’ll see that, in 2016 alone, roughly 246,660 new cases are expected to be diagnosed. Again, this is just the invasive—worst case scenario—cases. If you want to look at the non-invasive cases, you’ll have to add an approximate 61,000 cases to that already terrifying figure. Notice I said new cases? Yeah, those numbers do not include the cases already diagnosed prior to January 2016.
So how can a woman take back her body? Over the last several decades, mastectomy tattoos have become an increasing trend for women who had to face this horrific experience. It is a way to reclaim their body, to make something disheartening into something beautiful. Something they can wear with pride–like a badge of honor showing that they, this beautiful, feminine woman, beat the dreaded C-word and lived to tell the tale.
So before we go any further, let’s just take a quick second to understand exactly what a mastectomy is. When a woman undergoes a mastectomy, they are experiencing a surgical removal of one or both breasts. This is a full-blown operation, massive surgery; not an out-patient treatment. During a mastectomy, the breast tissue is removed, and in severe cases, some of the chest muscle is removed as well.
One thing that can be said for women is that they are survivors. They are able to withstand the excruciating pain of child birth, often times to undergo it again and again in exchange for starting a family. Women are pillars of strength for their loved ones during the worst of times and are able to deal with more stress, trauma, and pain than can be expected. Breast Cancer survivors (or any cancer survivor, to be honest) are the culmination of everything that make women so strong, beautiful, and brave. They have danced a dance with the most dreaded of deadly diseases and walked away to continue to dance again.
Women have learned to adapt, turning their mastectomy scars into a thing of beauty—a badge of honor, a triumphant display of their bravery, strength, and femininity.
“Getting my tattoo was the culmination of a three year dance with Breast Cancer. The tattoo changed my mastectomy scar into my shield,” Pam Huntley, a breast cancer survivor and mastectomy recipient, told babble.com in an interview. “It helps more women to feel better about their bodies,” explained Inga Duncan Thornell in the same interview.
As with everything, this trend has been taking the internet by storm as women line up in force to show their ink with pride, shouting from the rooftops that they survived and they’re still just as beautiful, if not more so, than before. Their feminine artwork decorating their chests is a constant reminder of the psychological trials and tribulations they made their way through over the course of their treatment and allows them to regain their self-image and self-love of their bodies. Tattoo artists and medical professionals have also joined the cause—showing extra love and attention to the concept, and organized groups have popped up all across the World Wide Web in order to give these women a voice, and a chance to help inspire other women who may be facing the same problem.
While we wait for a cure to this awful disease, let’s take a moment to praise these women for standing up for themselves, for regaining control, and for taking back their power over their own bodies. I commend you, each and every one of you, and appreciate everything you do for the women who have yet to follow in your footsteps.