Now with the link between tattoos and cancer firmly in my mind, I began to notice that breast cancer has its own tattoo culture. As I moved through stages of treatment in search of the new normal, I became aware of how embedded tattoos are in the breast cancer community. Apart from the unwanted radiation tattoos that many of us do our best to ignore, there are also celebratory tattoos that are chosen deliberately and worn proudly, rallying tattoos that are badges of the battle and the fight, images that note the belonging of the breast cancer survivor “club”, and, sadly, memorial tattoos worn by friends and family.

A year after my mastectomy I became interested in the post-surgery tattoos: ones to hide mastectomy and reconstructions scars and others that create the illusion of a three-dimensional nipple on a reconstructed breast. It was the scar-hiding tattoos that initially fascinated me the most. The program P.ink (Personal Ink, a North American program that provides “tattoo inspiration” to breast cancer survivors) shares images of how artists use a scarred chest as a canvas for sweeping florals, exquisite birds, and complex graphics. They promote beautiful, empowering designs as a way for women to reclaim their bodies after breast cancer and not allow it to leave the “last mark”.