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The Arts and Medicine
February 21, 2017

Moving the Needle on Recovery From Breast Cancer: The Healing Role of Postmastectomy Tattoos

Author Affiliations
  • 1David Allen Tattoo, Chicago, Illinois
JAMA. 2017;317(7):672-674. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.0474

I am a tattoo artist who works with women after they’ve had mastectomies to transform their sense of disfigurement and loss of control into feelings of beauty and agency. On a good day, I can heal with my art.

The women with breast cancer with whom I work share a feeling that they’ve been acted uponby cancer, the health industrial complex and its agents, the sequelae of their treatments. Their physical and psychological points of reference are destabilized, having changed so quickly. A successful tattooing experience establishes a new point of reference, a marker that’s intimately theirs that replaces their sense of rupture and damage with an act of creation and, in my work, images of natural life.

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