Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your journey?

I was 41 years old, married (not very happily) back in school to finish a long abandoned degree track, and looking forward to graduating in May of 2002. I found a lump in early February while in the shower, and after numerous biopsies and diagnostic mammograms, I received my diagnosis on Valentine’s Day 2002. 3 malignant tumors, 3 different grades, affecting both breasts. I felt I’d been dealt a death sentence. Everything seemed to happen so fast, in some respects, but in others, time seemed to stop. Fast forward, I opted for a bilateral mastectomy and tram reconstruction, a procedure that uses tissue from your midsection – leaving a scar from hip to hip, and resulting in a longer recovery time than implant reconstruction, but with fewer longer term risks of needing additional procedures or surgeries.   I received 4 round of chemotherapy and no radiation since they took all my tissue. I didn’t opt for the nipple reconstruction and areola tattooing that the plastic surgeon offered right away, and it didn’t bother me at all not having them. Everyone kept asking when I was going to do it. honestly, I think it makes other people feel better to see or imagine you “whole” again, even though you never feel that way because you can never really be whole again. Eventually, I did do it and wasn’t happy with the result. I ended up having 3 different procedures probably over about 8 years, and finally gave up, and just resigned myself to live with what I had as “good enough”.

I always felt from the beginning that cancer was a wake-up call for me, and I believe to this day that it was a blessing in disguise. I am so profoundly grateful for the journey that began that Valentine’s Day, and the life that has unfolded for me every day since. It has been nothing short of miraculous. Since that day, i learned to ride motorcycles, which changed my life forever in an amazing and unexpected way, finished one degree and earned a second, attained a number of professional certifications, landed an awesome job that I’ve been at now for 10 years , taught a class at a university, bought my first property in Chicago, and 3 years ago moved to Colorado and bought a lovely little home with a mountain view. I now own four  motorcycles and have traveled this country and the world on two wheels,  in a way I never would have imagined. All because that breast cancer diagnosis led me to my passion for motorcycling and opened doors i never even knew existed.

I left married life behind and embarked on what has become a second career in dating, which for all its pitfalls and horror stories, has led me to some amazing friendships and also demonstrated to me, in no uncertain terms,  that single life – even at 56 –  is pretty damned awesome! There is a LOT to be said for the kind of freedom I enjoy.

And of course, it has led me to friendships with other survivors that have and will continue to stand the test of time.

How did you learn about P.ink ?

I saw the video about Molly in 2013 when I first relocated to Colorado from Chicago and found she is the sister-in-law of P.ink’s founder, Noel Franus. I got so excited about what they were doing and I knew right then that I would find a way to be a part of it. Not just in getting my scars covered, but helping spread the word and the work of this amazing organization to survivors everywhere. When I discovered that Noel and P.ink were centered in Boulder, that sealed my resolve!

What was the reaction of your friends and family when you told them that you were getting tattooed?

Oh, considering the things I’ve done since my diagnosis and treatment – riding motorcycles all over the world, jumping out of airplanes, moving across the country by myself – they were not surprised, and were really thrilled for me! Everyone was completely behind me and also so excited to learn about this healing alternative for women like me.

How did you choose your design?

It turned out that we, my artist Friday Jones and I, decided to wing it on the day and she free-hand drew on me as we talked the morning of P.ink Day. As I talked about my love of black cats, my love of my new state and family and how I felt drawn to elements of my Zodiac sign – the moon and water in particular – the design just grew as she drew! And I knew I just wanted to cover those awful reconstructed nipples and areola tattoos. Which this design did! So I have an amazing one of a kind design, that wasn’t ever put to paper, but drawn on my body as the ideas emerged. It was truly an amazing experience! And I love everything about it. Incorporated are 3 black cats, a Colorado columbine, the moon – all encircled with a beautiful flowing swirling  branches, which were done on P.ink Day 2014. I later followed up with Friday and she embellished the design with willow branches (as willows grow near water), a myriad of  leaves along the original bare branches,  and 3 butterflies that represent my nieces and nephew. She also colored the moon and columbine in that later session.

Tell us about the day you got your tattoo. It must have been such an emotional moment!

My P.ink Day was incredibly emotional. There were 4 of us, all with such different stories and tattoo ideas, and experiencing this with others made for such a dynamic experience. I was so nervous because in real life I’m a program manager and I am used to having a plan for everything. My decision and ability to trust Friday and trust the process was a huge leap for me, and it made the experience that much richer. I just cried when I finally saw the finished piece in the mirror.

How did getting tattooed change your relationship with your body?

It has been 12 years since my reconstruction and as I said before, I was resigned to the way I looked. The breast shape was nice and natural, but since they’ve never felt like a part of my body, that didn’t really matter to me. What mattered was that those scars and awful nipples were the first thing I saw every time I looked in the mirror, and were a reminder of my being less than ‘whole’.

Now I look in the mirror and see this delightful, whimsical, beautiful art that not only makes me happy but reminds me of the experience and friendships that P.ink enabled for me. I would go topless all the time if it was legal! I show my tattoos off whenever I have a chance.