Art as a Survival Tool Series: II

Art of Healing with Breast Cancer Survivors

This blog is the second in a series of five on Art as a Survival Tool, blogs that examine the crucial role art plays in the fulfillment of the human experience.

A phoenix.

A lotus.

A human heart.

These are some of the images women chose to design the tattoos that would reclaim their bodies from the ravages of breast cancer. Instead of reconstruction, tattooing, an ancient practice tracing to Neolithic societies, uses art to create a ritual celebrating the power of choice and self. The designs are personal, symbolic—and deeply healing.

tattoo design collage_FINAL
Tattoo designs on’s Mastectomy Tattoo Idea Pinterest board.

Mastectomy tattoos gained global attention recently when Australian tattoo artist Mim D’abbs posted a picture of her first mastectomy tattoo to Facebook: a double purple flower-petal design requested by survivor Alyson Anderson. Anderson, who gave her permission for the use of the photo, became an inspiration when the photo instantly went viral, getting 14,000 shares within the first 24-hours of being online.

If treatment and mastectomies are the descent into surviving, using tattoo art can represent the ascent of the new body into a new life. According to an article in USA TODAY, South Carolina tattoo artist Shannon Barron states the most common response from women seeing their completed tattoos from her is “thank you for making me whole again.”

In this way, the power of art to transform works in triplicate: physically, emotionally and spiritually.

"Every single time I see myself in the mirror, I am deeply moved. I feel something healing inside me." -Mari (Image and quote from
“Every single time I see myself in the mirror, I am deeply moved. I feel something healing inside me.” -Mari (Image and quote from, a non-profit in the United States, stands for Personal Ink. Inspired by his sister-in-law’s battle with breast cancer, founder Noel Franus launched on Pinterest, creating a social media platform specifically designed to change the culture of healing. pairs women with tattoo artists to collaborate on the design, journeying together—through art—in the empowerment of the body. The effects on the survivor’s attitude and outlook are astonishing.’s success and the groundswell of using artistic ritual to move to healing from surviving cancer inspired the company to create an app called Inkspiration. The app allows women to “try on” designs, demystifying the tattoo process. Especially, according to, if she isn’t a “tattoo person.” launched Inkspiration in 2014 for iPhones with an Android version in the works, and you or a loved one considering the option of tattoo can download it here.

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