submitted by Judy Timm-Nyhus 

My journey with breast cancer began in 2015, after a routine mammogram. I went through clichéd responses: “It couldn’t be me, they made a mistake. They have the wrong person” and “But there isn’t anyone in my family with breast cancer.” Yet it was ME.  

I chose to have a double mastectomy with implants. My body never fully accepted the implants. I found them intrusive and very uncomfortable — they are foreign objects and my body never acclimated to them. 

In April 2018, I elected to have a ‘nip/tuck’ procedure to tighten the skin around the implants and reshape them. I was hoping this would stabilize them and make them feel more like me. Unfortunately, the surgeon punctured one of the implants during the procedure and this led to leaking silicone.  

I hated my post-breast cancer chest even more. 

In mid-May, I had a different plastic surgeon remove the leaking implant and insert new, state-of-the-art implants. My chest looked as close to natural as it could. It was a beautiful job — with one hitch. I became septic, which meant I had a body-wide infection travelling through my bloodstream. This demanded an emergency removal of all infected tissue, and the implants. 

I was in extraordinary pain as the infection spread. I only wanted to save my life at that point. I didn’t care about implants, breasts, or looking better.  

The additional trauma of sepsis and surgeries took a huge hit on my body and mind, with additional scarring that only made it worse. My chest was more disfigured than it had been with the original mastectomy. I was shattered all over again.  

Since then, however, I have been completely freed of shame, embarrassment, doubt, and sadness over the loss of my breasts.

I now have an absolutely beautiful, decorative tattoo that covers each space where my breasts were and asymmetrically drapes to my ribs and one shoulder. It is incredible, and a beautiful piece of living art. 

It is deeply traumatic to lose one’s breasts, and to sustain numerous and painful scars following surgical intervention. However, highly skilled artists, dedicated to the creation of beautiful living art for the mastectomy survivor, are trained specifically to work with scarred tissue and the individual bearing it.  

Decorative tattooing is a beautiful, empowering, and positive wave that is addressing these ‘battle’ scars and taking hold in the breast cancer community. 

My tattoo artist gave me a gift that has changed my life. 

Judy Timm-Nyhus is developing a book featuring survivors with decorative tattoos. To donate, or learn more, visit