Everything about preventative mastectomies is a highly personal choice: Whether you choose to get one or not; whether you choose to reconstruct or not; and whether you choose to do something like, say, get a Wonder Woman tattoo on your mastectomy scars. Every choice is valid; the important thing is that you have the freedom to do what’s right for you. And if your choice makes you feel empowered? Well, then, that’s all the more reason to move forward with it — which is exactly what Stephanie Jane Kelly did when she underwent a preventative double mastectomy. That Wonder Woman tattoo I mentioned is Kelly’s, and it so very beautiful for so very many reasons.
Kelly’s mother faced breast cancer twice; in fact, this family history is what led to Kelly undergoing first the test for the BRCA1 gene mutation, then later the double mastectomy. The risks of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer increase dramatically for those who have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations. According to the National Cancer Institute, about 12 percent of women will develop breast cancer in their lifetimes; however, for women with the BRCA1 mutation, that number skyrockets to 55 to 65 percent, while for those with the BRCA2 mutation, it’s around 45 percent. Meanwhile, about 1.3 percent of women will develop ovarian cancer, while the risk rises to 39 percent for those with the BRCA1 mutation and 11 to 17 percent for those with the BRCA2 mutation.
Although she had always liked her breasts — said Kelly to People, “They had been a part of my body I’d always liked. I liked the way they made me look and I loved that they had fed my four children as babies” — the knowledge of the risks made the decision to get the double mastectomy surprisingly easy for Kelly. “With my family history full of cancer, I had always thought breast cancer was a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if,’” she told the Daily Mail. “The genetic counselor said I had a very high risk,” she added. “I live next to my mom and just watched her suffer from the chemo more than anything else. I didn’t want to wait to get it first and then need chemo on top of the surgery. I made up my mind almost immediately.” She underwent the procedure in December of 2016.
But as much as she had enjoyed having breasts, Kelly also decided that reconstruction wasn’t the right choice for her. She has a few other health concerns, including gastroparesis (a digestive tract condition), fibromyalgia, and some remaining issues from a car accident; with those issues in mind, she determined that reconstruction wasn't the way to go for her.
That’s where the tattoo comes into play. Wonder Woman was a source of strength for Kelly while she was undergoing the testing, mastectomy, and recovery; said Kelly to People, “I have always loved Wonder Woman, and during this time I began to joke that I was going to be like Wonder Woman and be strong and unfazed by the things I needed to do that scared me.” Friends,family, and loved ones even sent her cards and other items featuring the DC hero in support. “It all helped me feel stronger and it was a way to feel all the love and support I had and bring that along with me,” said Kelly.
So, when Kelly decided to adorn her mastectomy scars with a tattoo, she looked to Wonder Woman for inspiration — as well as to another mythical source: The phoenix. “Along with Wonder Woman, I was also drawn to images of the phoenix and how the bird reconstructs itself from the ashes of its former body,” Kelly told People.
With those two ideas in mind, she went to tattooist Jamie Epsey at the Lovely Monkey tattoo shop in Whitmore Lake, Mich. Epsey specializes in breast tattoos; a lot of her work is centered around creating realistic areola and nipple tattoos for people who have chosen to have their breasts reconstructed, but she also does decorative tattoos for those who choose not to reconstruct. Epsey designed Kelly’s chest piece; the result is a beautiful gold and red phoenix whose wings spread out across Kelly’s chest in the shape of the Wonder Woman insignia. As Kelly put it to People, “I absolutely love it!”
There’s also this, which kind of makes it all even moreperfect: Wonder Woman is, of course an Amazon.
It’s worth noting that the whole thing about Amazons cutting off one of their breasts to aid in their archery technique is actually something of a myth; according to folklorist and historian Adrienne Mayor, hundreds of images of Amazons exist on ancient pottery, and they’ve all got both their breasts. One is usually covered, yes — but it’s not missing entirely. Mayor posits that the myth might stem from the fact that, to ancient Greeks, “Amazon” could have sounded kind of like a combination of the prefix “a-,” which means “without,” and the word “mastos,” which means “breast” — that is, they could have interpreted the word as literally meaning “without a breast”). Additionally, the DC universe typically depicts Wonder Woman and her people with both breasts.
All the same, though, there’s something beautifully poetic about the idea of mastectomy scars being adorned with tattoos inspired by a great warrior from a group of people who are popularly — if erroneously — known for both their strength and their mastectomies undergone by choice.
“I have my moments,” Kelly told the Daily Mail, “when I miss the soft curves of my breasts, when I miss being able to wear a bathing suit and have it fit well.” However, she’s also experienced a newfound sense of embodiment through her journey. “Honestly,with my new Wonder Woman Phoenix tattoo across my mastectomy scar, I feel very confident,” she said to the Mail. “I get to re-invent myself into whatever I want and make this new body my own.”
To which I can only say: Yes. This. So much this.