Beauty, Battle Scars, and Survival

“BATTLING CANCER MAY HAVE WEAKENED MY BODY BUT IT EMPOWERED MY SOUL.”
Denise Osborn, Survivor 1998

She looks at her breast in the mirror of the tattoo shop. Behind her there is the sound of the needle biting the skin of another willing participant enduring pain for beauty. For art. There are people milling about too. Talking. There’s music. Steady, with a heavy base. She hears and sees none of it. She just looks at the beauty of her body and her reflection. She realizes that her breasts do not signify her womanhood. They are merely flesh, fat, blood, milk ducts, and nerve endings. They’ve been used for nourishment and for pleasure. They have experienced pain, need and want. Recently the left one has experienced pain. From mammogram, biopsy, diagnosis, chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. It is now battle scarred.

It will never work the same way again. The nipple is there, but it is merely a prop. The breast has been reconstructed, but it will never feel the nuzzling closeness of a little one’s mouth when it’s time to eat. It will feel the hands, lips and tongue of a lover but it will never respond the same way. The nipple will never rise again. It merely exists. But it is there all the same. She is there all the same. She and her breasts are still viable. Still beautiful. Still her.

The artist decorated her breast with an array of pink petaled flowers and green leaves. Not to hide the scars, but to commemorate them. To honor her struggle. Her survival. She knows now after this journey, that her womanhood is not tied to her body parts. But to her spirit. Her battle scars are her womanhood now.

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