Sue Cook, the chief examiner for Foundation Art and Design at the University of Arts, London, has been in remission for breast cancer for seven years has got a tattoo over her mastectomy scars to celebrate being cancer free. Now 62, Sue told the Huffington Post UK that she denied reconstruction surgery, 'my body has been through enough and now it's time to celebrate the new me. My tattoo celebrates my victory over cancer."
The cancer was found initially in her right breast in 2008 and by 2010 both breasts had been removed following years of both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She says of the mastectomy process: "before cancer I was a D cup. To go from that to no cup at all can be quite a shock. I remember I was joking with one doctor and he said 'yes, it looks like it's been done with a knife and fork!' Like any other amputation, it can be seen as disfiguring. But I decided that I didn't want to put my body (or my mind) through an extensive process of reconstruction. I didn't want to deny the impact that cancer has had on me, nor did I want to rearrange any other parts of my body."
To celebrate 5 years in remission, she decided to get the tattoo: "it had always been my choice not to wear prostheses and it was also my choice not to have reconstruction. So after reaching my unexpected five year remission I began reclaiming my body to show that cancer doesn't always have to leave the last mark."
The tattoo design was inspired by a trip to India that she too with her students and she says "I loved the artwork, particularly Mandalas. I wanted to almost recreate the feeling I used to get when I wore beautiful lace underwear. Many women will be able to relate to that feeling, it gives a boost of confidence - it's like a hidden secret, an inner smile. I found a pattern that I loved and then adapted it to suit my chest size and scarring. Although it began as only a chest piece I loved it so much that I wanted to extend it onto my shoulders, so I could choose to show as much or as little as I liked."
It took 30 hours to complete the tattoo: "I seemed to be able to zone out and of course, I had something to look forward to at the end. Each session gave me a greater sense of how I would feel when it was completed. It is a thing of beauty and every morning when I see it - it's like it's for the first time - it puts a smile on my face. And because those who know me well know I can be a bit of a control freak, it has also helped me to take back control. During treatment you are told what to do, where to go, when to be still, to breathe in, what to take... The list goes on. But this is me making a decision for myself about my body. It is empowering and gives me a feeling of strength."
I personally don't feel as if I have read of such strength for a very long time and think that Sue is a truly phenomenal woman. The tattoo, of course is beautiful, but the woman behind it is something else. Here's just another example of humans being INCREDIBLE. Thank you Sue for being such an inspiration.