October has a lot of things going on. First is the visual, olfactory and all pervasive onslaught of pumpkin spice. I briefly considered dressing as "Pumpkin Spice" for Halloween, but I was worried I would be torn asunder by hordes of autumn-crazed soccer moms and urban hipsters - not a pretty picture. Then we have Halloween itself, which has morphed from a kid thing centered around light marauding and sugar consumption into a Martha Stewart-fueled juggernaut of spooky-light decorating themes and slutty versions of every single costume known to man, including Elmo and an Ear of Corn (sadly not kidding). And then there is breast cancer awareness month.
October is the month of pink ribbons and PSAs reminding you to do self-exams and get a mammogram if appropriate. As breast cancer continues to impact millions of lives and steal away thousands of our sisters, daughters, mothers, wives, and friends, individuals and organizations seek ways to turn the tide towards health and offer comfort to those who have done battle. This is a cause that resonates with me deeply. I lost my sister to breast cancer when she was only 41 and I have had a preventative double matectomy because I carry the BRCA1 gene.
Those are a lot of hurdles to clear and October always reminds me of my sister's struggle and the sad fact that she never made it to "survivor" status. One way I remember her is by helping out with a meaningful cause - P.Ink Day. P.Ink Day is a day of love, healing, and tattoos for the brave women who have come out on the other side of of breast cancer as survivors. Most women who battle breast cancer have to endure endless medical interventions, not the least of which is breast surgery. Those surgeries leave scars - both emotional and physical.
I have had a full reconstruction (breast implants, nipple reconstruction, and nipple tattooing - the full enchilada), but even after all that plastic surgery, I still felt detached from that part of my body. When I looked at myself in the mirror - which was rare - I saw battle scars and painful memories. I decided to stop looking. Then one day I thought I would get a little memorial tattoo for my sister next to my incision scar. That morphed into two breast-covering cherry branches and a completely new way of relating to myself. Those tattoos healed my broken realtionship with my altered body. They also led to my desire to get heavily tattooed, start blogging about tattoos, and my involvement with P.Ink Day.
P.Ink has the best tagline ever, "Don't let cancer leave the last mark." It gives me chills just thinking about it because I personally experienced that transformation through tattoos. On P.Ink Day, survivors all over the country are paired with experienced tattoo artists for a day of art and healing. It is a labor of love and generosity. No money changes hands, and all goods and services - including the tattoos - are donated for the survivors. P.Ink Day is meant to raise awareness (and hopefully donations) so P.Ink can partially fund mastectomy tattoos for women in need throughout the year.
Last year I worked with two survivors and two incredibly talented artists. The transofrmation that occured on that day was powerful and immediate. One of the survivors confided that she had shown her scars to her husband only once - and he winced. She had not taken her top off in front of him since (over a year). We both cried. By the end of the day, her scars had been covered by beautiful monarch butterflies alighting on delicate tree branches and the change in her was profound - and went way deeper than a tattoo needle. In follow up chats, she confirmed that her "girls" were quite popular and she was showing them off proudly to women who wanted to see. She was radiant and confident. THAT is what P.Ink Day helps create. THAT is what a tattoo can mean.
P.Ink Day is happening this weekend - maybe in a city near you. I am proud to be involved again this year. I have three women looking forward to their own transformations and three amazing artists who define generosity.
So this October try out that new scratch paint technique on your jack-o-lantern, enjoy a hearty pumkin spice casserole, wear something classy for Halloween, and please remind the women in your life (and yourself) to take care. And if you are so inclined, head over to P.Ink and see some inspiring examples of bravery and generostiy in action.
Lists of artists recommended by P.Ink - here
My personal mastectomy story and tattoo images - here