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 friend of mine is considering getting a tattoo after her mastectomy. ah, i thought, that’ll be a fun entry! let’s have a few pretty, colourful pictures of tattoos!
i can be so naÃ¯ve sometimes.
for some strange reason, the obvious was not immediately obvious to me: that by just gently touching the subject, i would open a spider’s nest of body modification, questions about pornography, stories of sleepless nights over what seemed lost feminity, courageous leaps into unknown sexual territory, feminist thoughts on art, anthropology, books about tattooed people (from holocaust survivors to carnies to respectable ladies to, yes, breast cancer survivors), and, and, and.
and triumph! in 2002, breast cancer survivor june gladney took part in a science fiction conference that featured a masquerade. she appeared as an amazon goddess:
i turned full-face toward the audience… my daughters tell me that the roar erupted as a wave across the auditorium as i turned … and they caught sight of the scar and the dragon tattooed across my left side. … it seemed that the whole audience was on their feet, cheering, applauding, screaming, some in tears. the back-stage crew was applauding; lots of tears and hugs.
i was overwhelmed. i had never expected anything like that!
many people came up to me later during the convention to thank me for my bravery in doing such a daring presentation. some told me they needed to see a real-life scar which wasn’t that bad. most promised to get the necessary tests done. several had been putting it off for years, dreading what they might hear.
(read here for the rest of the story, told by the photographer)
june’s experience must have started with fear, too. i imagine the journey from dread to diagnosis, then the decision to have surgery, the surgery itself and the recovery, all the thinking that must have gone into saying no to reconstruction. pondering over images for the tattoo. getting the tattoo done. flashbacks at that moment perhaps to the surgery.
as i’m imagining this, i, someone who does not have cancer, also wonder, finally aloud for all my readers to hear: why do i keep writing about this? it all started with desiring to contribute to my friends with cancer, and breast cancer in particular, with thinking that it would be fun and useful to be part of the frozen pea friday movement. but it has gotten bigger.
these images of women (and men; they can get breast cancer, too) are not just in your face, dear reader, they’re also in mine and they urge me to admit that i need to look at this. why do i keep writing about this, despite the facts that a) i don’t particularly enjoy “having” to write about a specific topic at the rate of once a week, b) almost every one of these posts presents me with some sort of hurdle, and that, c) judging from the number of comments, it doesn’t seem to be my most widely read topic here. why don’t i just say, okay, that was fun, now on to something else? (and i’m not saying that i won’t do that but so far i’ve stuck with it).
perhaps there is some survivors guilt, or is it confusion? how come these friends of mine were touched (swiped! whacked over the head!) by cancer and i wasn’t? (yet?) perhaps it’s some deep superstition: if i write about it, i won’t get it. perhaps by writing about it i can come to grips with the irriversability of cancer. and maybe i am finally admitting to myself that despite my supposed high level of comfort with death and dying, i, too, need to come to understand my own mortality.
there is something atavistic about these tattoos, something that literally goes much, much beyond skin level. and it has touched me and said, “girl, you need to look at this.”