Cancer does not have to take your sexy away.
That's what Tina Mendenhall, 43, of Tucson, Ariz., wants women who are fighting or have beaten breast cancer (or any cancer) to know. It's a mantra that she only realized by going through the journey herself after a breast cancer diagnosis on June 24 of this year. From that moment on, everything changed and quickly.
In 60 days, both of her breasts were removed.
"After a diagnosis of cancer, you are faced with the biggest decisions literally of your lifetime. Your time stands still yet you feel everything is a blur. You become a fighter, it becomes your mission to live and persevere," she told A Plus in an email.
It took a year, but after a bit of chemo and then homeopathic treatment, Mendenhall began to feel whole again. Reconstruction surgery also helped, but the scars remained. Though they represented her time as a fighter and survivor, she was tired, so she chose to get a mastectomy tattoo to symbolize her fight, but also to put her struggles behind her.
"I didn't want to walk around in warrior mode anymore, I wanted to be a beautiful woman again," she told A Plus. "Now, that was my new mission."
Mendenhall joins hundreds of other breast cancer survivors who have chosen to cover their scars with personalized tattoos. A few artists even specialize in doing them, including California tattoo artist Shane Wallin.
His first-ever mastectomy tattoo was a bra for a woman named Shari in 2012. Now women seeking Mastectomy tattoos make up 50 percent of his business. He's also partnered with P.ink, an organization that connects survivors to tattoos artists, to bring his work to more women.
They range from flowers to quotes and can cover as little or as much as the woman would like. Their popularity has certainly grown in recent years, which is largely in part due to social media. That was a principal factor that led to Wallin having more clients reach out to him.
Canadian survivor Karen Lazarovitz, 41, is open about her tattoos and her journey for this reason. She wants other women to know that there's more than one option after a mastectomy.
"My tattoo shows that women can feel beautiful again regardless of what choices they make post-mastectomy," she told A Plus.
The significance of the tattoo and experience in itself isn't lost on Wallis, who finds the "reveal" to be the most gratifying part of the experience.
"Their faces say it all. You can see the range of emotions unfold. There are always tears. It is very personal and I am grateful that I can bring that kind of change," Wallin told A Plus in an email.
It's artists like him, the ones that get it, that make all the difference.
Mendenhall was lucky enough to have her tattoo done by him. He gave her a black-and-white design comprised of swallows, an anchor and roses.
She told A Plus the roses stand for something particularly special:
"I had a motto and fight anthem all through my fight: 'I may have fallen into some sh*t, but I'm going to come out smelling like roses' — and I did."
Check of some of Wallin's work, and the work of other artists below, on women whose stories transcend beyond the ink: