Solo Travel Memoirs: Marking a Cancer Journey in Ink

by | Jan 31, 2022 | 0 comments

An older woman with a butterfly tattoo

Last updated on March 26th, 2022

Featured image: A woman happily shows off her butterfly hand tattoo / Photo by Hanni on 20Twenty

Her tattoos say “I choose to live by my own rules”

By Amanda Burgess, Editor, JourneyWoman

Every tattoo tells a story. Canadian Christine Pope’s latest tattoos tell stories of strength, resilience, hope, and life after breast cancer.

The 57-year-old now lives in Mexico, the country of her heart. The country where she was diagnosed and received treatment, and where she ended her cancer journey by getting inked twice. In 2021, after a double mastectomy and finishing chemo, she received her first large-scale tattoo, transforming her scars into art.

“The whole tattoo is about optimism, hope, looking towards the future (third eye), and new life. I love that it peeks out of my shirt and is a conversation piece. I am happy to flash anyone that asks to see it. It’s an ending to a path I never thought I’d be walking on, and it’s f@cking cool,” she says. 

When Pope looks at the tattoo now, all she feels is joy. She recalls the beautiful memories of having it done, and the opportunity to show it off.

Christine Pope shows off her beautiful chest tattoo after receiving her double masectomy.

Christine’s chest tattoo done by Nancy Abraham. Find her on Facebook and Instagram

“I love it. I love seeing it every day. I don’t notice that my boobs are gone—it’s too beautiful. Much better than saggy boobs,” she laughs. “I don’t think about why it got done: Breast cancer.  I don’t miss my boobs, and in a strange way, I am happy that they are gone. That I had a reason to get this awesome piece of work.”

Before booking a consultation for the tattoo, Pope asked for recommendations for a female artist on Facebook and received more than one for Nancy Abraham, who runs an all-women tattoo shop in Mexico City and whose abstract art Pope was drawn to. 

“I wanted a woman, as I felt a woman would be more comfortable looking at my chest. I emailed Nancy, sent a photo of my chest with some ideas and guidelines,” she says. “She wrote back the most beautiful email thanking me for the opportunity to do this. She understood the importance of the tattoo and the confidence needed. I read her email, cried, and said: She gets it. I knew right then and there that she would do a fantastic job.”

She gave the artist complete artistic freedom, with the only stipulation that there be zero pink or reference to cancer. This tattoo wasn’t about cancer—not directly. It was about the woman. It was about the journey. It was about life

The original design from the artist had two hands where Pope’s breasts would have been. She didn’t want to mark what wasn’t there—she wanted to mark the end of cancer and the beginning of a new life. So, the artist went back to the drawing board and the second design hit all the right notes.

A tattoo artist works on a tattoo of a hawk

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During Pope’s first in-studio session, all the girls in the shop watched the process. She strolled around without her shirt on and felt comfortable and free doing so. The initial outline took about eight hours to complete.

“Nancy is so talented and such a great person—she made me feel relaxed and welcomed. The actual inking was painful in some areas, but I was so excited to be doing it that I didn’t really notice,” she says. “It was emotional in that it was signalling the journey I had been through and moving to the other side. It was also a logical process, and I approached it like I did my cancer treatment—go A to B, then B to C—so emotions were the last thing to come into play.”

Pope was sent home to heal and return in three weeks for round 2. During that time, she was looking for something to label the tattoo and found it in the Chinese symbol for wood, which stands for fresh starts and optimism. 

Christine Pope's latest tattoo, the word

“I knew that’s what I wanted to finish it, and Nancy worked it into the design. Once it was done, I looked in the mirror and was emotional. I hated looking at my chest and the scars. Not that it was ugly, but it was a horrible reminder of having cancer. The tattoo covered what was left of the reminder and gave me the confidence I needed to move forward,” she says. 

Pope’s latest tattoo was her motto during chemo: Vivir (to live). When people learn they have cancer, many questions run through their mind on a loop: Am I ready to die? Do I want to live? Am I going to do treatment?

“I chose to live. Living to me means being able to do the things I love—like travel— and not just being alive. It was all the things that make me feel alive. I kept saying: I want to live,” she says. “I knew I would do the tattoo on my wrist, the final tattoo for this journey. I like the art. I like that my body is a canvas. I think my tattoos say: I am strong and fearless. After cancer, I really don’t give a f@ck about anything: I do what I want, and if that is more tattoo art, it will be.”

Do you have an interesting tattoo story? Share it with us below!

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Amanda Burgess is a Toronto-based writer and creative strategist whose bags are always packed for her next adventure. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), and a Certified Cancer Journey Coach who creates a safe space for cancer patients and caregivers to design their dream lives – while living with cancer, and on the other side of it.

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