[Guest Blog Post by Tara Williamson]
Thirty-nine was the age I was when they told me I had breast cancer. Surely, they had me confused with someone else. I had no family history, I couldn’t feel anything.
The biopsy results came in – positive. Immediately dread took over my body, I was in complete shock. It made no sense. My heart was beating out of my chest. As a nurse, I grabbed every medical book I had, reading chapter after chapter, researching online and spending every second praying and talking with my family. The choice for my treatment was clear — bilateral mastectomy and, if possible, immediate reconstruction. I wanted these toxic breasts off and I wanted to live, I wanted to be aggressive, to feel like I had some control of my body.
A trip to the plastic surgeon’s office and then surgery, that’s what I thought, but God’s timing wasn’t going along with mine. The morning of March 13, 2012, two days before my surgery, the breast surgeon called to reschedule because of insurance issues. I was devastated. I cried for hours only to receive more horrific news — my dad was dying. I rushed to be by his side. Sadly, he passed away on March 16th, his 62nd birthday.
Driving back to North Carolina to plan my father’s funeral, my breast surgeon called again with a new plan. “Let’s do a lumpectomy, to get it out. We’ll reschedule the bilateral surgery for a different date,” he said.
Once again, I felt helpless and powerless over my body. On March 29, 2012, I woke up in the recovery room to find she had implanted rods for radiation. I couldn’t believe what was happening. During the post op, I got the answers. The cancer had advanced and was high grade invasive ductal carcinoma. After an intense conversation with her about my body, my life, and my choice, we scheduled a date for the bilateral mastectomy.
Months later my plastic surgeon talked to me about areola 3D tattooing, a special artistic process for women who have lost their breast(s) to cancer. We searched for months looking for an expert artist, but unfortunately there was no one in my state. Giving up, I decided to have this procedure done by someone who did the best she could, just not what I thought we survivors deserved. She gave me three options: chocolate brown, bubble gum pink, or nude.
I almost fell out of the chair. Are you kidding me? This is my last hoorah? Survivors deserve more! Survivors deserve the best. Therefore, I deserved the best.
That’s when my life changed.
Feeling my own pain, I made a decision. I was going to train with the best areola tattoo instructor. Formally trained as a nurse, I traded one needle for another. When they handed me that tattoo pin, I knew this was my purpose, my gift, my answer to “why me”. God had a higher meaning for my life and I was ready to live it. In April 2014, I founded Pink Ink Tattoo.
Pink Ink Tattoo has expanded nationally. Now in three states, I travel to reach survivors who may not be able to reach me, working alongside many wonderful plastic surgeons. The power of survivorship starts within ourselves. I give back every chance I get and I give to other women hurting just like I did. Today, I have the opportunity to give survivors that “finishing touch” to the long, emotional journey of breast cancer, restoring their confidence and helping them feel whole again.
The most amazing thing throughout this journey is that I have learned the second act of life can be far more important than the first, but it has to be up to you as to how that can be. I’m a nurse, a mom of three beautiful children, a wife, a kidney donor to my sister (yes, I donated my kidney along the way), a certified 3D areola tattoo artist, and I even helped produce a television show featuring women cancer survivors.
Most of all, I am a survivor. And today, I wouldn’t trade my life for any other road I could have chosen to travel. I am right where I belong — I’m living my second act.
Tara is part of the Official NCSD Speakers Bureau Roster. To access the Roster, register your event today.