Not all tattoos have meaning behind them, but these do. In cW’s newest portrait series, five women show off their ink that pays tribute to an array of cancer journeys, including their own.

Written and Photographed by Sarah Bell

Tattoos are a beautiful form of self-expression. In this photo series, we met women who have tattoos to commemorate their own battles with cancer and some to honor those they’ve lost to cancer. Cancer is something these women didn’t choose, leaving them with scars they didn’t want. Tattooing near or over scars from their surgeries aided in the healing process.

Caryl Clement described her chemotherapy as literal hell. When she decided to get a tattoo after completing her breast cancer treatment, she didn’t want just the pink ribbon. She instead accompanied it with a skull, three birds for her children and a butterfly to honor her father who she lost to cancer.

Leanna Blanchard’s tattoo on her ribcage represents her journey with cancer: an oar for her cancer rowing team, her mountain-moving Breastie community, a magnolia flower for a friend that passed away from cancer and part of a poem by Rupi Kaur: “And here you are living despite it all.” Her tattoo was done by Kasey Ray at Evil by the Needle in Bloomington, Indiana.

When Katie Edmonds was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2018, a friend pointed out that her radiation would begin in the dead of winter but end by springtime. This inspired Katie to get flowers tattooed on her leg. The tattoo was completed by Ricki Proper at A Proper Tattoo in Chicago.

Nearly a decade after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Margie Gallagher had lilies of the valley and an owl tattooed on her chest as the “last stamp” of her journey. Margie’s tattoo was donated to her through Personal Ink, an organization that uses donated funds to provide mastectomy tattoos. Mike FisherDubois at Speakeasy Custom Tattoo in Chicago created the tattoo.

For Grace Lombardo, the purpose of her tattoo was to reframe the scars she incurred from her journey with breast cancer. Grace believes her story is important to share so other survivors know they have a choice in how they heal. Grace’s tattoo was done by David Allen of David Allen Tattoo in Chicago.



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