In 2017, an estimated 252,710 new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in females in the United States. And though the breast cancer death rate among these individuals decreased between 1989 and 2015 by 39 percent, education, awareness, and research around this disease is still vital.
One way to raise awareness is through body art. Some people choose to get inked as a reminder of strength, even during their darkest hours. For others, it’s a way to remember those they’ve lost to the disease. And for some, tattoos act as a source of healing following a mastectomy.
Keep scrolling to see the beautiful artwork and powerful messages behind the tattoos below, submitted by our readers.
“I chose to have larkspur’s tattooed because larkspur’s are my twin boys’ birth flower. Without them I would not be where I am today. I also chose cannabis leaves because it has given me the quality of life to live, and continue to be healthy for my boys. I have finally turned my ugly scars into beautiful art, and feel myself again. I have found my confidence, and I finally love my breasts!” — Starling Wickes
“I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer on October 2, 2015. At my very first consultation I stated that, should I need a mastectomy, both breasts were to be removed. I was told this would not happen as they would not remove healthy tissue. [In the end] I fought [for it] and won. Initially I had three months of chemo but this was killing me — and not the cancer. It was stopped, and three weeks later a double mastectomy was performed. Five weeks later I was told that I had made the best decision as I had residual cancer and the second breast would have needed to be removed anyway. Twelve months after surgery, the work on my tattoo began. This took five months to complete and I love it. Why this design? Aside from loving nature, well... these are my new ‘tits’.” — Elaine Murphy
“I am not a pink ribbon kind of girl — I’m actually quite against it. So to commemorate my journey, I got a tattoo of the chemical formula of Herceptin and I have it right under the breast that was affected. I had the tattoo done on the day I passed the three-year mark, as that is an important milestone in Her2+ cancers.” — Anonymous
“HOPE is essential when you’re struggling with any type of disease. This ribbon represents metastatic breast cancer — green identifies triumph of spring over winter, and thus symbolizes renewal, hope, and immortality; teal identifies healing and spirituality; pink identifies the origin of the metastasis as breast cancer.” — Debby Carlson
“I wanted to share my survivor tattoo. I am a three-year survivor — so is my mom. This dragon is me tearing apart breast cancer (pink ribbon).” — Valerie Schwarzwaelder
“I got this after my mastectomy. It was very healing and made me feel beautiful. I believe it was therapeutic in some way.” — Wendy Snow
Emily Rekstis is a New York City-based beauty and lifestyle writer who writes for many publications, including Greatist, Racked, and Self. If she’s not writing at her computer, you can probably find her watching a mob movie, eating a burger, or reading a NYC history book. See more of her work on her website, or follow her on Twitter.