Cancer. It's one of the most terrifying words in the English language. But even though the path to beating the disease can be grueling, painful, and scary, the survivors highlighted below show us all just how strong the human spirit really is. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, and subsequently undergoing single or double mastectomies, these women were constantly reminded of their struggle every time they had to look in the mirror. So they decided to take back control of their bodies: Seeking out help from , an organization that connects breast cancer survivors with tattoo artists, they've transformed their scars into something truly beautiful. Here, they share the stories behind their tattoos.
"Right after I had my reconstruction surgery, I found out the breast cancer spread to both lungs and I'm now stage 4. Every time I saw my scars it reminded me that I'm terminal. Now when I look at myself, all I see are my beautiful tattoos. They're amazing!" —Denise Valley
"There are so many things I could say about why I chose the tattoo I received. First I wanted something that had softness to it—no harsh lines or heavy, dark outlines. Too often we dwell on the harshness and ugliness of cancer, but having breast cancer brought some wonderful people and things into my life that I would never had been blessed with otherwise. I want to remember those blessings when I looked at my tattoo in the mirror.
"The images in my design, the cardinal and Forget-me-not, are for my mom. I lost my mom to colon cancer in 1991. When I got married, she pinned a Forget-me-not inside my wedding dress and I did the same for my sister when she was married. My sister passed away in 2013. Before my mom passed away, she told me that whenever I needed her, to look for a cardinal. There was one that almost never left the tree outside my window throughout my year of treatments for breast cancer, and at other times of sadness and celebration ever since losing her.
"The joy and peace I felt when I looked at this completed tattoo is indescribable. To be able to look at myself and see something beautiful is a gift of a lifetime. It's been so long since I could look in the mirror and not be reminded of breast cancer and all that it took away from me. This tattoo lets me focus instead on what I have gained and been blessed with through this journey." —Deb Kuhns
"The soft, pink ribbon does nothing for many of us. It cannot represent the hell that breast cancer is! Instead we should be wearing a black 'Thor's hammer' and a sword. A reminder to fight like the warrior you are!" —Catherine Shinaberry
"I received a blue and green Phoenix and floral arrangement that I'm absolutely in love with. My entire life has been a lot of different types of comebacks, so my Phoenix just seems so natural for a wonderful symbol of my life and how I feel. Melora, my P.ink tattoo artist, designed her to be right where she's going to have a great view of my life and where others are able to admire her for the strength she represents in me.
My friend that just had her breast treatments and surgeries told me she didn't even do her physical therapy because she didn't want to chance the therapist seeing her scars. It's so hard to believe that after all the effort she went through to save her life, she should be embarrassed by the very thing that helped to keep her alive." —Dale Wingert
"My tattoo is a dandelion with the seeds wafting across my chest and turning into birds. I chose this image because it was something that kept coming to me when I had my cancer. It represents wishes, hopes and dreams. One of the birds is actually a dragon, which represents my daughter. There is a small heart that represents a group of online friends that are so supportive. And the ladybug on the stem of the flower represents my co-workers who are also a great support to me. When I saw my tattoo, I was so happy. Now I don't see the scars. Yes, they are still there, but the beautiful art I have now eclipses them and I smile every time I see it." —Kari Hitchcock
"My tattoo is healing because where I once saw scars, I now see beauty. Thanks [to] P.ink for changing my life!" —Christine Genardi
"My tattoo made me feel like I was in charge of my cancer...I love looking at it every day. The flowers in my tattoo represent the beauty behind the darkness while the butterflies are for my daughters and me. It's filled with color because cancer did not take away our spirit and joy." —Monica Theis
"I am a free spirit. Cancer has given me back my true self. My tree of life tattoo has given me back my self-esteem. I am a flat and fabulous warrior. P.ink, I thank you for giving me back my beauty." —Eve Donaldson
"We refuse to be defined by the scars of breast cancer. We will fearlessly rise up and create our own definition of beauty. We are beautiful." —Monica Hendricks
"I had an idea of what I wanted, but no actual picture. Something told me to trust Luis, my tattoo artist. I allowed myself to become his canvas. I was so incredibly in awe of his tremendous talent and compassionate heart. The final product not only captured my wishes but fulfilled my desire to let cancer know that I had the last say-so. I later learned that Japanese fighter pilots painted cherry blossoms on their airships. It was believed that the souls of the fallen soldiers were reincarnated in the cherry blossom: representation of eternal life. How appropriate." —Izabelle Magallanes