Allow me to tell the story of a fellow cancer survivor – where I have the honour of sharing a triumphant process of a woman regaining control and injecting choice back into her life. A stark comparison to the cancer process where choice is usually in limited supply.
This is Anna (right) and myself (left) – we became very close friends (‘breast’ friends) – through the shared experience of Breast Cancer. Anna supported me selflessly through my own treatment. I couldn’t live without her 🙂
Choice and control is more powerful than you think… Often, like a lot of things in life, until you loose something, you don’t necessarily value its importance. This is a story of an incredible woman exercising choice and control to nourish her soul and bring a feeling of peace back to her heart, after feeling torment for so long.
Anna suffered from breast cancer at 35, then again at 42 (parotid gland cancer) and then again (yes, again) when she was 47, breast cancer (triple negative). She’s had 20 surgeries, 8 chemotherapy sessions, 60 radiotherapy treatments and various complications along the way that could probably fill a book (maybe she’ll let me write that one day)?
I titled this story ‘More than Survival’ and when you get to the end, you’ll understand why.
On the 24th February 2017 – I held Anna’s hand and walked through the doors of ‘Tatts on Tatts Off’ (Tattoo Studio) to begin a process that was incredibly moving.
On that day…
Walking through the door, I personally feel a sense of anxiety, even though I’m only the support person. It’s a bit of an intimidating environment for me. I guess it’s the fear of the unknown and the unexplored… I share butterflies in the pit of my stomach for my beautiful friend… exciting butterflies. Before we know it, there is banter, jokes and consent forms. I look at my friend and we give each other a knowing smile. Today is the day. Today is the day Anna has been waiting for [for nearly twelve months].
The ex Navy, ex Police officer and incredibly talented artist takes us through to a private room. It is clean, it is professional, and it is an impeccably organised and sophisticated studio with the right amount of spunk. Anna get’s to ‘Show em Who’s Boss’ she gets to take control, she is a warrior and today she gets to make a choice.
Let me explain what cancer is and how it operates in terms of mindset. It strips you of decisions, it strips you of freedom and it manages to back you into a corner that dictates and tries to define… If you can manage to get out unscathed emotionally, well I take my hat off to you… Whilst cancer can never steal your soul, it does a bloody good job of trying to do so.
With Anna, a survivor of three separate primary cancers… her soul is very much in tact, it’s on fire and it’s thriving. This woman I write about is absolutely ‘tough as nails.’ Courageous and young at heart, this amazing woman with a tough exterior is also a beautifully soft human. She’s got a heart of gold, and gold she has given to me, in bucket loads; a friendship that I am eternally grateful for. She sprinkles glitter on my life, brightening any darkness.
For years, Anna has had to look at scarring across her breasts, going through numerous surgeries, not because of choice but for the sake of her life. For those of you who think Breast Cancer Surgery is ‘just a boob job’ or a chance to get ‘a new pair’ – let me set it straight for you… IT.IS.NOT! IT IS ABSOLUTELY NOT! If you have had radiation on your breasts, your entire breast becomes scar tissue. Now tell me how you stretch scar tissue? Exactly! It’s not ideal. Experienced surgeons struggle to create natural looking breasts post cancer treatments. It’s not a matter of just slotting a breast implant under a muscle.
I watch my beautiful friend, she’s lying peacefully yet with the occasional clench of her teeth and the pinch of her eyes… she’s in pain, yet taking it in, gritting and baring it, why? Today is all about choice!!
A whimsical design of flowing leaves, foliage and branches leads to a strong and sophisticated rose… petals are layered with precious detail. Two strong and intricately placed roses are meticulously tattooed across Anna’s chest. No longer scarred by endless surgeries, now imprinted by choice, an empowerment like no other which brings strength and beauty back to the core of ones own heart. A sexiness to be felt within, a confidence re-installed to a girl who deserves that feeling. All women deserve to feel beautiful and empowered – and today…. Today was the day to take it all back, take back control and utilise the power of choice.
Cancer you might bring it – but Anna brings it better!!
I am witnessing the most beautiful art on an incredibly strong and inspiring canvas. I get to hold Anna’s hand as she takes back her own power and totally owns her inner sexy… she’s rocking it and I’m grateful to be her support on this milestone day.
Every single woman deserves to feel sexy, and sadly some have their ‘identity’ taken through brutal measures… I’ve never been a ‘tattoo girl’ yet, today, the penny drops and I understand it.
Peter Bone aka ‘Bones’ is the talent behind this artwork – he has a similar heart to that of Anna… almost two years ago, he started doing nipple tattooing. Often in tumour removal, reconstructive surgery or mastectomies that are a result of breast cancer, women may lose their nipples. Bones offers nipple tattooing for breast cancer warriors, pro-bono – it’s a love job! He recognised the emotional pain woman experience when looking in the mirror post surgery and the need for this type of service.
Often breast cancer surgery is expensive and emotionally taxing. At the end of the surgical process, the pain one feels internally when looking at their reflection can be incredibly heartbreaking. When I asked Peter about his compassionate decision to offer nipple tattooing free of charge, he said, “I was sick of hearing cosmetic surgeons charging a fortune for a less than perfect end result.” Peter believed that he could offer a much higher standard that women would be (and are) happier with.
Whilst nipple tattooing is a stark contrast to that of full sleeves, back tatts or tramp stamps, it’s a rewarding service and I’m personally grateful for Peter’s empathy and understanding for woman who must go down the unchosen fight path. Women can come to ‘Tatts on Tatts Off’ to complete themselves if that’s what they feel is missing. Or like my gorgeous girlfriend, you might choose to do something more artistic.
I’ve often said that I’m not a ‘tatt’ girl, though, I do admit to having five tattoos – yes five… not by choice. When you undergo radiotherapy, they must permanently tattoo various markers so that you can be aligned to the beams that will shoot radiation through your body. These remaining markers are like scars, they are reminders – I used to hate them, and now they’re just like all my other imperfections… they tell a story; the fact that I’m still here to tell it is case in point – I’m ok with my ‘marks’. However, if your radiotherapy tatts annoy you, come and see ‘Bones’ – multi-talented, he can also remove tattoos.
Out the other side – Anna has now had three sessions with her tattoo artist and the end result is one that has sparked a ‘new girl’. Even after the initial session when they were not yet complete, she had a spring in her step and a contagious energy that was radiating in bucket loads. It was such an amazing transformation. The physical look of how such art has changed Anna’s appearance is one thing, yet the emersion of a new person that now houses a delicate softness in her heart for herself is priceless. This renewed self-love is the most magical aspect of the entire process; a breakthrough transformation after battling cancer multiple times.
After a tangle of life-threatening illnesses that deeply disturbed her life, watching Anna evolve as her blissful right of choice was fulfilled, is truly inspiring. I’m so proud and in awe of my beautiful ‘breast’ friend.
In conclusion – lets all take our hat off to the unbelievably brave and kind woman that she is. For Anna to share these pictures, allowing others to momentarily come into her world is incredibly admirable.
This piece was originally published in my digital magazine, Enlighten. You can see it in magazine design HERE.
Since writing this article, Anna’s tattoo artist Peter Bone (aka Bones) has launched a charity called ‘Survivors Ink’.
What is Survivors Ink?
Survivors Ink is a non-profit charity organisation, focused on providing breast cancer survivors with FREE realistic nipple tattooing and financial support. Most breast cancer survivors and their families are still facing, both financial and emotional hardship as a result of their cancer treatment and recovery.
Many breast cancer survivors are unable to consider cosmetic tattooing and reconstructive surgery, due to the exorbitant costs associated.
Survivors Inks aim is to provide free realistic nipple tattooing to all Australians affected by breast cancer and aid in their physical and mental recovery, free of charge.
If you know of anyone who could benefit from the process of nipple tattooing or alternatively are able to donate, please don’t hesitate to call or check out their website and social media accounts for further details. All donations are greatly appreciated.
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