Planting the seeds of my secret garden


When I found out that I had breast cancer I knew that a major surgery was in my future. For the most part all women with inflammatory breast cancer get one. Or two as the case may be. I was the one who insisted they remove my right breast. At the time the surgeon balked a bit.He told me that even removing one breast since I was already stage 4 was not going to “cure” me. I knew that. I also knew that removing what is medically referred to as the “primary” was linked to a lower rate of metastasis. But as I said, I already had cancer in my bones. I was adamant that I wanted the bulk of my disease gone. And for good measure take its sister with you. In the end they found my right breast loaded with IBC too. So there.

What I was less than prepared for was all the emotional side effects of the loss. At times I am pretty darn content to be flat chested after years of big boobs. But alas there are times where I feel very different than the old, voluptuous me. Some of you have had reconstruction. An idea I considered. But in the end the pain of tissue expanders and another surgery was something I could not endure. It was also not something that was recommended in my case either. I bought little fake boobs. I bought a little bra that holds them. I wear it for 5 minutes freak out and take it off. I can’t do it. It’s not”real”. Now if you are cool with this for you..please,please,please do not take offense. I am just talking about myself. Now is not the time to tell me how much you love your implants. So anyway, I am resigned to a life as a flat chested girl. And I make the most of it.

On Memorial Day I met Kelly’s boss Anna Paige.She is an amazing tattoo artist. And a kind and strong woman. Beautiful too. Anyway, I began to think about how nice it would be to maybe be tattooed on my chest.To enhance my beauty the way my breasts used to. You know a little cleavage draws the eyes to the face..or just the boobs. I decided to talk to Anna. I felt like I could show her my scar. I felt like if anyone could make me feel beautiful again it was her. Her work is body enhancing and delicate. I knew Anna would not make me feel inferior or judged. We talked on the phone and I told her I was open to almost anything. I told her I trusted her judgment as an artist.I also told her I was interested in covering the right side of my chest as well as the “top”. She said she would need to look at the skin and make sure it was able to be covered.

Today we met at No Ka Oi on 4th street. She whisked me upstairs to a private room and was like okay sister let’s see it. Within minutes she was looking over both sides of my scar. The left side has been effected by skin cancer which seems to be healing. But to me it is really ugly. I was scared but Anna was like I ‘ll show you mine. We knew that we wanted to steer clear of the left side. But the right looked great. Anna drew on me for over 2 hours. When she was done I cried. It looked beautiful. A big chrysanthemum where my boob used to be. A bird of paradise. A lotus. Air. A dove. Everything flowing into each other. She incorporated every nuance of my scar. Every fold and change. And she avoided my port,although it does not look intentional. She took pictures. And as I gazed in the full length mirror I felt overjoyed at what I saw. I felt whole and fixed. NOT fake, the way I had when I tied to wear the implants. Now getting an entire chest piece may not be for most cancer patients,but for me this seems right.

Anna decided she wants to meet my oncologist this week to make sure that our design is good.To make sure it is ok with her that I am getting tattooed in certain places. I think this shows her commitment to me and her integrity as an artist. Anna referred to the blossoms under my dress as my secret garden. When she was done it was she who remarked that we had planted the seeds for my secret garden. I loved that. When we saw the finished piece I began to cry. Tears of joy. I no longer felt like I was doomed to avoid the mirror forever. Anna cried with me. I felt like me. For the first time in a long time. I felt confidant and attractive…..without my shirt on.

22 Responses to “Planting the seeds of my secret garden”

  1. Sheena says:

    YES!!!! Andrea, that is amazing, and it sounds like Anna is, too. Anna Amazing. It is so exciting to hear you say how good you felt– not physically, but emotionally. What an exciting project, and for once, something involving needles to actually look forward to…

  2. Ruthie says:

    What a beautiful post. I am overjoyed that when you looked in the mirror you felt whole and complete…a beautiful gift. I pray that you will be able to have it permanently.
    Ruthie from California

  3. larue miller says:

    You have come along way!!! I remember reading that you couldn’t even let Kelly see your scar, now you’re showing it off. Thank God! I hope your oncologist will allow the tattoo to be done. It will just enhance your beauty.
    The things that have been happening to you and yours lately just confim my belief that good things happen to good people. Praise God from who all blessings flow.Amen

  4. I so understand. I had reconstruction of both the breast and nipple. When the plastic surgeon wanted to tattoo the area around the nipple to be an “areola”, I asked for a heart – because, when I looked in the mirror I did not want to see the scars (there are many with reconstruction), instead I would see the heart. I had to walk around with an ink pen outline for 30 days because my doctor thought I had lost my mind. Even though he was great with surgical skills and lacking in tatoo skills, way lacking, I don’t regret it. My sister also had breast cancer and she opted for a star in the middle of her reconstruction instead of a fake nipple.

    I am glad you have Anna.


  5. Renee Khan says:

    It sounds like a very emotional day Andrea.

    In a good way.

    Love Renee

  6. Mary Beth says:

    What a touching post — thank you for being so open and vulnerable! You are beautiful and I’m sure the tattoos will just enhance that beauty.

  7. Donna Arnold says:

    Hi Andrea:
    I LOVE this concept, ANNA, and YOU!!!! Truly amazing… always, YOU rock, girllllllllll….LOVE IT! LOVE IT! LOVE IT!
    Donna in SC

  8. Carolyn says:

    This post is beautiful and extraordinary. What an angel Anna is. I’m so happy that she will be able to give you the gift of something beautiful where once you only saw ugliness and pain. I hope the whole process goes smoothly for you.

    And congruations on winning Best Mommy Blog. You deserve it!

  9. kristine says:

    That is the most perfect thing I have ever read. I love how true you stay to yourself… crazy punk rock mommy!!

  10. Alexis says:

    I think this is wonderful! You are absolutely beautiful, no matter what, but I think it’s awesome that you and Anna were able to collaborate and create a work of art for you. (See, Mom, tattoos *do* have a purpose!)

  11. leah says:

    oh i’m so happy, i think this is an awesome idea and it so fits you!
    i love you! you rock!

  12. Linda, Palm Harbor, Florida says:

    Andrea, you are such a wonder! What a fantastic idea and what a blessing to have Anna being so concerned and creative! You go girl! This is just what you need and hope all goes well and the doctor approves! Love ya and God Bless.

  13. joshua says:

    that was beautiful, indeed. so are you. that chest piece sounds awesome, too!

  14. the other naomi says:

    just took some time to read the blogs i’ve missed, and this one was so beautiful. I love seeing your writing just get better and better, and i can always tell when it’s something you put time and thought into, ’cause it’s even more poignant than usual.
    i love the idea of a secret garden.
    i love you.

  15. Julie says:

    Oh Andrea, what a spectacular idea! I’m so glad you are blessed to have such a wonderful person to do this for you.

  16. Linda Conley Soffer says:

    I absolutely agree with the above comments, this is such a magnificently perfect idea – BRAVO!!!!!!

    Catching up from a computer – free vacation, I want to add my 2 cents… I think the most powerful thing about your blog for me is that idea of recognizing the distinction between the body and the spirit – that happiness comes from within & not from one’s circumstances, that we are sooo much more than just our bodies – a message we do not get often in our culture, especially as women. And that every moment is a gift – that is hard to realize & remember.

    And I loved the anarchy story as well. When I worked at Moonstone I was alone upstairs in charge of the Kindergarten group & would often have to go to another part of the building to get supplies. Certain kids would always ask to be put “in charge” and I would announce that “everyone is in charge of themselves.” Never had an incident. Here’s to self-reliance, even for 5 year olds!

  17. Wendy says:

    Absolutely beautiful. I cried tears of joy for you. God bless you and God bless Anna.

  18. jenni bender says:

    andrea that sounds amazing! i am so happy to hear that. it really brings joy to my heart to know it made you feel that way. i can’t wait to see it! love you.

  19. Kate W says:

    This seems providential. Only this week I decided I wanted to get a labyrinth tattoo, but had no idea where to go. I even checked your site to see if there was a link to Kelly’s workplace, as I naturally thought of you two, and wanted to give you my custom. However, it’s a long way from the ‘burbs to 4th St. Do you know anyone closer to Valley Forge/ 422?
    Andrea, I hope you get your new Tat: it sounds magnificent. But you do know we’ll be hoping for a photo posting once it’s healed?!

  20. Michele says:

    This is a beautiful post and I cannot wait to see your tatoo, that is if you’d like to show us.

  21. Aimee says:

    How could you NOT consider this? I think even going through the drawing part of it was a big part of healing. It’s important. As we know, healing and cure are two different things. And even with Stage 4 cancer there’s nothing stopping you from being able to work on healing.

    When I first decided to get tattooed (before I actually got tattooed), I thought of it as a way to be able to confidently raise my shirt to any passing stranger who asked- a way to talk to people about breast cancer that would be comfortable for them too. But it hasn’t really turned out like that. As many times as I’ve had to take my clothes off to show people, or have had cameras recording my barren chest, you’d probably think I’m ok with it. But I think I’ve grown even more introverted with it. The tattoo is so personal to me that it almost feels like I’m naked in a more vulnerable way when I have to show it. So, while the purpose of learning to be confident in showing it off was sort of squashed, I can say that the actual healing that’s come from it has been much more than I ever hoped for…………..