Breast Cancer Tattoos Are More Than Skin Deep

Tattoos Can Be Medical and Meaningful

Patty and Katrina's Breast Cancer Tattoos
Patty and Katrina's Breast Cancer Tattoos. Photo © Katrina Krauss Photography

A colorful butterfly gently hovers, looking for a good place to land. Like an animated flower petal, it lights on Katrina's arm. An equally beautiful butterfly finds its home on her mother Patty's arm. These lovely creatures will remain with them forever because they are breast cancer tattoos.

Getting Inked for a Good Cause

These tattooed symbols of new life are poised near pink ribbons that hold a special meaning for mother and daughter.

Patty Krauss is a two-time breast cancer survivor who lost her mother to the disease. Their breast cancer tattoos were done to remember Katrina's grandmother and celebrate Patty's survival. Breast cancer survivors and co-survivors get inked for many reasons: to commemorate a loved one, raise breast cancer awareness, help with fundraising or as a daily reminder of their journey.

Tattoos for More Than Survivors

Stacey Coffing and her husband Cary are about to get their first tattoos. Stacey is a one-year breast cancer survivor and mother of two school-aged boys. Coffing says she decided to commit to pink ink "to keep us grounded and to remind us of our daily gifts in life and to never take anything for granted. It will also remind us of our journey that we have gone through together and individually."

Son Caleb, age 12, feels that his parents' tattoos are a great way to forever support his mom.

Jonathon, age 8, says that even though it is going to hurt getting the tattoo, it will not compare to the pain that his mom went through when she was newly diagnosed. Coffing is getting a pink ribbon with the date of her diagnosis.

Medical Tattoos & Artistic Tattoos

Breast cancer treatment may actually require tattoos for medical reasons: radiation tattoos are used to help target ionizing energy to kill cancer cells and reconstructed nipples may be tattooed to tint them with color.

Some skin art is done for purely decorative purposes.

In "Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy," Geralyn Lucas writes about choosing to skip nipple reconstruction and have a heart tattooed on her nipple area as a mark of survival. Lucas was 27 at the time of her diagnosis and doesn't match the typical tattoo stereotype: gnarly biker chick with skull tattoos and helmet hair. Lucas' breast cancer tattoo is a mark of survival and defiance of breast cancer: defining herself as she wished to be, not as others expected her to behave.

Tentative About Tattoos?

Breast cancer tattoos are not just for young, trendy survivors and supporters. Patty is 66 and has been cancer free since 1998. She got her first tattoo in 2008. Her daughter Katrina got inked in October - Breast Cancer Awareness Month - after having supported her mom, Patty, through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Patty really thought Katrina's breast cancer tattoo was beautiful and after she got over the thoughts of "What will people think of me if I get a tattoo?" she got the ink. Patty's caution is understandable: tattoos stay on forever and some pain may be involved in getting one.

A small, simple tattoo can cost anywhere from $40 to $50 and take 30 to 60 minutes to apply.

If you're prone to infections and don't want to bother with tattoo aftercare, don't go under the dancing needle. Try a temporary airbrushed or water-soluble tattoo as an alternative to a professional studio tattoo.

Breast Cancer Tattoos Mark Survival

A breast cancer tattoo is a very personal thing. From the decision to get a tattoo, to the art, colors, and location of the design, it is your unique expression. Stacey's and Cary's tattoos help them look forward to raising their children and celebrating survival for many years to come. Patty and Katrina sport their matching tattoos while they remember that strength comes from the struggle.

Breast cancer may leave you feeling marked for life, but a breast cancer tattoo is a mark of celebration!