Tattoos Empower Survivors to Create Their Own Vision of Breast Cancer

Tattoos Empower Survivors to Create Their Own Vision of Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Survivor: Jackie O’Grady at Day Montreal 2016. (Photo by: Kate Fellerath for


Did you know there are 2.6 million breast cancer survivors in the United States alone? More than half of the survivors are left with scars due to mastectomies.

Physical appearance has a huge impact on self-esteem in complex ways. We all want to believe we don’t care how people think of us, but often that is not the reality. Women want to feel beautiful and we work hard to be beautiful both in diet and exercise. But when we receive a breast cancer diagnosis, we are  concerned about our lives, our families and our physical appearance.

After having a biopsy, I had a scar and thought I could live with that scar with no problem. No one likes to have scars, but having my life is more important. Then I received the news that I had breast cancer and needed a lumpectomy. A lumpectomy takes a portion of your breast tissue out leaving your breast with less mass and scars. The scars after a lumpectomy are more noticeable than those from a biopsy.

I looked down at myself and wasn’t happy with the appearance. Springtime was just around the corner and then summer. As petty as it might sound, all I could think of was tank tops, bikinis and how I would look in my summer dresses. Little did I know that my natural breasts would no longer be a part of me by summer. I needed a mastectomy and had reconstruction competed immediately afterwards. Yes, more scars are apparent, and there are no nipples, but I’m certainly glad to be alive and healthy today. When I look in the mirror, I see the mark of cancer. It’s foreign and with bad memories.

More and more women are getting tattoos after having mastectomies. Why would you want to go through more pain and the hassle of a tattoo? But the reality is that after a mastectomy, skin tissue is often numb, so getting a tattoo can be pain-free. Breast cancer narrows our options in appearance, but being able to choose a tattoo and how exactly you want to look can bring power back to a woman.

An organization called helps women find a tattoo artist in their area to give them a tattoo over their mastectomy scar. Tattoos give the power and choice back to the women, instead of cancer leaving the last devastating mark on their body. is an all-volunteer organization that is available to help breast cancer survivors feel beautiful inside and out.

What started out as a small organization to help women quickly turned into a movement that has helped women from all over the country. Day started in in 2013 in Brooklyn, where, with the help of crowd-funding, 10 women with mastectomy scars were able to have tattoos completed by talented tattoo artists. From there, in 2015, 45 women have been able to get their tattoos and life back.

Personally, I live with my scars, but I’m seriously considering getting a mastectomy tattoo. Why should breast cancer leave the last mark on my body?

Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.

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