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Cancer » Burst Cancer

Women Talk about Mastectomy Scars, Being Flat Chested, and How to Brave Them

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Paulette Leaphart, a breast cancer survivor, walked a thousand miles from Biloxi, her hometown, to Washington, with a bare chest and her mastectomy scars on display.


Leapheart wanted everyone to know that courage and strength define a woman, that her self-worth has nothing to do with her breasts.

Mastectomy is a surgical procedure. It is used to remove the breast(one or both) either entirely or partially. It is performed to treat breast cancer or to prevent the same in high-risk individuals.

How Paulette Leaphart Found a Way out of Depression after Her Mastectomy

Paulette had late-stage breast cancer. When she underwent the double mastectomy, she was hoping to get a reconstructive surgery soon after. Paulette has a rare blood disorder. As her doctors put it, a reconstructive operation was too risky. She was left with a scarred chest and no hope of ever getting any sense of normalcy back.

As Paulette recalls it, she felt like the monster of Frankenstein back then. She spent the next eight months in depression.

Tired of the constant sadness and reminders of what she had lost, Paulette decided to visit Biloxi with four of her daughters. Back in her hometown, on a day out at the beach, watching her girls play with the sand and waves, Paulette found her ray of hope.

That day, she took off her shirt, asked one of her daughters to take her pictures, and posted them on Facebook. The posts got 100,000 views within one hour and over twenty million views eventually, as Facebook reported.

The 1034 Mile Long Walk

Leaphart mentions a strong desire to help others undergoing a similar fate as hers. This desire also motivated her to walk the 1034 miles between Mississippi and Washington DC, calling out attention to the system, the financial burden of breast cancer, and the trouble that underinsured or uninsured women bear.

Leaphart reached DC on her fiftieth birthday. She stayed there for four days and talked with Congress about her motives.

The Trend of Going Flat

For some of these women, reconstruction was never much of an option owing to a medical reason similar to what Leaphart had. For many others, the financial burden of the cancer treatment had proved trouble enough. Reconstruction was a luxury they had no chance of affording.

However, many women chose not to get reconstructive surgery. They decided to ‘go flat’, as the people term it.

Getting Inked and the Significance behind the Gesture

Following the mastectomy, it is common for women to slip into depression, face dwindling self-esteem, and feel insecure about how they appear. For many such women, tattoos have emerged as a brilliant way to cope.

Bernadette McLaughlin underwent a mastectomy followed by reconstruction. She had the procedures on both of her breasts with a seven-year difference. Nine years later, she encountered blunt force trauma, which forced her to get the reconstruction removed. Her further attempts to replace the loss got subdued by a staph infection.

Bernadette felt disfigured. Her chest had multiple scars, lumps, and bumps. To make sense of her situation, she reached out to the daughter of Demi Moore- Scout Willis. After Willis had been seen walking topless through the New York City streets, Bernadette wanted to know if she could get arrested for the same in New Jersey.

Scout Willis replied, much to Bernadette’s surprise. Willis requested a picture of her chest and suggested that Bernadette takes up tattoos. She even connected Bernadette to Friday Jones, a brilliant tattoo artist.

The Connection to Breast Cancer Survivors

Bernadette McLaughlin mentions feeling excited, scared, joyous, but never doubtful. She was sure of what she wanted and had faith on her artist.

Breast cancer had taken a very crucial part of control away from Bernadette, as it does to every patient. She had no choice while losing her breasts. Tattooing gave her that command back, allowed her to choose how her reflection in a mirror will appear.

Tattoo Artist Talks about Inking the Survivor Women

The founder Noel Franus considers the attempts of his organisation as allowing the women to choose the way they want their recovery to be. Franus mentions how he would like to alter the healing culture. He wants the women to see chest tattoos as an option right after reconstructive surgery or no reconstruction.

Shane Wallin, a tattoo artist, has a 23-year long experience in the trade. He worked with his first mastectomy survivor client in 2012. Wallin remembered getting inspired by the effect his work had on the woman's self-confidence.

Wallin considers the process of inking as a positive reinvention for the survivors. The process of converting scars that replay horrible memories into beautiful artwork that both, inspires and draws awe, is what motivates Wallin to keep working with

However, Chest Tattooing Is Not for Every Woman

Surviving breast cancer is a journey full of struggles. Afterwards, embracing the scars and the bare chest happens in different ways for different people. For some, tattoos work. For others, the shock that other women feel on witnessing the flat chests, and how it urges them to look after their health and get checked at least once, works perfectly.

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