Why I got a tattoo to cover my mastectomy scar

PUBLISHED ON: 29 June 2016

Kerry Allison

Kerry Allison hated looking at her mastectomy scar. But two years after her breast cancer diagnosis, she found an artistic way to regain her self-esteem.

It was terrible to lose a breast. I knew why it had to go, but it was one of the few aspects of my body I liked, and now I felt my body had let me down. I hated looking at my scar, I hated being flat on one side.

I kept a facade on for everyone around me, but I’ve never cried so much. The only person who saw everything, however black, was my partner Roel. We’ve been together for 16 years, but this diagnosis was extremely tough for both of us.

To the outside world, you look normal with a prosthesis in your bra. But every night and every morning I would be reminded by a big scar across my chest. I felt cheated by my own body.

No reassurances

After treatment finished and the appointment for reconstruction came around, I wasn’t sure what I would do. I led a very active life – ultra-distance off-road running, mountain biking, road biking, ice climbing – and was fearful that any surgery would impact my ability to continue.

I left the reconstruction appointment in tears. The doctor couldn’t answer a lot of my questions about the effect it might have on my activities. The hospital only offered LD flap reconstruction [using tissue taken from the back], but I was concerned it may affect my ability to lift things (like my bike over obstacles) or wear a rucksack. And would I be able to climb or scramble again? I got no reassurances. Being slim and sporty, I didn’t have enough abdominal tissue to use for reconstruction. And it was recommended that I couldn’t have a breast implant as I’d had radiotherapy.

The chance of a ‘boob’ was gone. Now what? I didn’t feel ‘whole’ or ‘complete’ being left like this. I needed something positive.

Kerry showing her tattoo

A perfect design

I’d seen images on the internet of tattoos, but there wasn’t much information about. I did a lot of research, going into (and out of!) many tattoo studios before I found an artist called Anna, at Adorn Studios in Shrewsbury.

Roel and I met her and described ideas, and took some pictures and drawings Roel had done. She came up with the most perfect design to give a feminine curve and cover up my scar (and the annoying radiotherapy dot in the middle of my chest!).

I had the tattoo done in August 2015, just under two years after diagnosis. The whole design was done in one day – six hours of tattooing was very painful! The design was of irises as my paternal grandmother, Iris, had cancer at about my age and survived into her 80s.

The impact on my self-esteem was massive. Instead of hiding my scar away, I was making sure everyone saw my tattoo! I absolutely love it. I could never have believed how much better about myself it could make me feel.

Showing the world

From the start of my diagnosis, Roel would take pictures of my scar as a record for us to see things over time. Photography became a strong part of documenting everything, situations both funny and sad. I think it felt constructive for Roel to be able to do something.

There are some lovely, poignant images which we look back on and realise how far we’ve come. This led me to volunteer as a media representative for Breast Cancer Care, and when I was asked to do a photoshoot for World Cancer Day, I agreed. Roel came with me to London and I’m so glad he was there. A couple of glasses of Prosecco, along with a very supportive photography team, and we had a lovely photo of my tattoo.

The reaction was massively positive. Breast Cancer Care’s Facebook page went bonkers with 21,000 likes and some beautiful comments. It felt good!

Content created June 2016; next planned review 2018

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