Everybody goes through hard times, but I thrive to find the people, the brave hearts, who brave all that and try to help the people going through the same situation.
A few days ago, I was talking to Mrs.Plehn, a breast cancer survivor, who now carves tattoos on breasts of people who have breast cancer.
this is the story of how Silke.Plehn felt the need to end cancer disease. After this enforced time of passivity during surgery and treatment she wanted to get active again. Not only by fitness training but also by determining how her body should look. Cancer should not be the winner, not even by leaving scars. So she decided to get a tattoo on her right breast. The design she chose was a cancer(the zodiac sign).
She wanted to tell the "killing cancer" that he must not come back because now there´s a new and better one instead. She didn´t want to hide all of the scars and she also didn´t want pretty flowers or butterflies on her breast because breast cancer isn´t nice, too. To her, it was a kind of honesty to put a cancer tattoo on a part of the cancer scar. This part of her life shouldn´t be washed away, it has to be remembered but she wouldn´t let it dominate her. The experience of getting this mastectomy tattoo was so impressive and liberating that she wanted to share it with other breast cancer survivors.
Silke.Plehn: My name is Silke, I´m a 55 years old breast cancer survivor and mother of three children. My husband, our youngest son and I live in a small village in Germany about 50km north of Hamburg. I am a pharmacist but I don´t work in this profession anymore.
(A picture of Silke.Plehn)
Tejus: I see…. When were you diagnosed, and at what age?
Silke.Plehn: I´ve got my diagnosis in November 2012 at the age of 50.
Tejus: What kind of cancer were you diagnosed with?
Silke.Plehn: My kind of breast cancer was an invasive lobular carcinoma (cancer that starts in the lobule and spreads beyond it).
Tejus: That sounds dangerous! What stage were you diagnosed with?
Silke.Plehn: My tumor was stage I.
Tejus: How was the cancer initially detected? (i.e. through a BSE, a CBE or an annual mammogram)
Silke.Plehn: For several years I had an increasing calcified area in my right breast. It was detected in my annual mammogram. To make sure if it was harmless or if there was already a mutation, the radiologist sent me to a vacuum biopsy.In these histological samples the small tumor and several CLIS (carcinoma lobulare in situ) were found.
Tejus: That must have been a really hard time for you. How did you feel when you first received the news?
Silke.Plehn: The diagnosis was a shock. Just a few minutes before I received the phone call my personal world was fine and I wasn´t feeling sick at all. Within a moment everything changed and thoughts were running wild.
Tejus: Is there a family history of breast cancer?
Silke.Plehn: My fathers sister developed breast cancer at the age of 54. On my mothers side of the family there were no cases of breast cancer.
Tejus: Did you have a support network? If not, how did you overcome it or find it?
Silke.Plehn: My family supported me every time during the disease. We talked openly about all aspects of this live changing condition. There was no need for me to search for another network or for psychological help.
Tejus: That’s great! Well, people come and go. Family is FOREVER. Tell me about your treatment process.
Silke.Plehn: In December 2012 I had to undergo surgery with a partial mastectomy and lumpectomy. Fortunately the sentinel node wasn´t affected, so that there was no reason to remove more nodes or to receive a chemotherapy. In January a radiation therapy started. My right breast was radiated 30 times, Because my tumor was too small the histologist couldn´t determine hormonal receptors. Therefore the oncologists decided that I didn´t have to do an antihormonal therapy. Because there was only a quarter part of my breast removed, I didn´t need further reconstructive surgeries.
Tejus: That’s shocking and sad….Were there any programs or services offered to you that would help with the treatment process?
Silke.Plehn: There were no special programs. I was offered to contact a psycho oncologist, if I had the need to, but I didn´t.
Tejus: Did you face any obstacles during your treatment process? If so, how did you overcome these obstacles?
Silke.Plehn: Luckily enough I didn´t have any mental or physical difficulties to cope with during the treatment process. In the last two weeks of radiation therapy there was a skin damage like a heavy sunburn on my breast. But it never felt so uncomfortable that I would have been a handicap to me. I went to fitness training soon after the surgery and during radiation. My doctors agreed and left it up to me to decide what was good to my body and my mind.
Tejus: What message would you like to provide women in the community?
Silke.Plehn: Everybody goes to this life-threatening disease in his own shoes. But what I can say is: listen to your body. It will tell you, what you need. If you want to be active, do so. If you need to rest, rest. Don´t force you to do something. Take your time. But don´t let cancer rule your life on the long term. Even if you are diagnosed with stage IV (metastatic) cancer you can do things to live a fullfilled life. Don´t compare. It will not be the life you lived before but you have the chance to make the best out of it.
Tejus: you’re an inspiration ma’am! What words would you NOT want friends/family to say to you?
Silke.Plehn: "Your cancer is depressing me." "Try this diet with cale (broccoli, lemons, cranberries, etc.). It will kill your cancer cells!" "Oh, how horrible. My grandmother died of breast cancer." "You are lucky. Your cancer is so small. There is a low risk you will get metastases." "You´ve got cancer because you probably didn´t lead a healthy life so far." "Did you go to your check-up regularly?" "You need to ......" ....and there are many more!
Tejus: Damn…. When did you want family close and when did you want them to go away?
Silke.Plehn: In the first days after my diagnose I was confused, anxious and sad. I didn´t want to show my weakness to my loved ones because they shouldn´t be scared. After the first visit to the surgeon in hospital when we discussed my stay, the surgery and treatment, I calmed down. From that time on I wanted my family close to tell them all about the oncoming time.
(A picture of the tattoo on Silke's breast)
Tejus: I see. What words did you want to hear most from your family and friends?
Silke.Plehn: "We love you!" "We will support you whenever you want." "We go through this together."
Tejus: Would you go through chemo/cancer treatment a second time?
Silke.Plehn: I can´t answer this question because I didn´t need a chemotherapy. Of course I would go through cancer treatment as often as it is necessary. Hopefully no more!
Tejus: How did you go about telling your family?
Silke.Plehn: The phone call from the histologist reached me at the 18th birthday of our elder son. In the afternoon we sat together to celebrate when the phone rang. The call was announced for the morning and I was worried why they didn´t get in touch with me. When the voice in the phone told me that there were invasive cancer cells in the biopsy material, I was shocked. I felt like I was sitting in a bubble in the middle of my family. They were celebrating just like me a few seconds before and I was paralyzed by the voice in my ear. When they realized that something had happened to me, I had to tell them the bad news. It was so hard to do.
Tejus: What emotions were you experiencing when you heard your diagnosis?
Silke.Plehn: After being shocked there were a lot of other feelings, too. I was worried. Worried about my family, about my chances fighting cancer, about the therapy. What type of cancer? Was it very aggressive? Would it probably already have spread? Would I need chemotherapy? There were many questions. Because I wanted to know more about the different types of breast cancer and the recommended therapies I started to search the internet. The more I read the more I´ve got anxious, almost panicked. So I stopped, had confidence in my doctors and tried to focus on a good outcome.
Tejus: Did you continue to work your job during the treatments?
Silke.Plehn: I didn´t work as a pharmacist in the years before my breast cancer disease. But within a week after my surgery I almost did my work at home as usual. I also went to fitness training as soon as the doctors agreed.
Tejus: Where did you get your strength and resilience from?
Silke.Plehn: I received power and positivity from my family. They helped me through the bad days with their love and support. They lifted me up when I was down and worried. I´m an optimistic person and I believe in the strength of my body and mind. A big help to me was doing sports. It assured me that my body worked reliably. Also I trusted in the knowledge and experience of my doctors. They did all that was medically possible to give me the best conditions to get well soon. I´am not a cancer warrior or hero. I just did what had to be done.
Tejus: You're still a warrior in my eyes! Looking back, would you do anything differently?
Silke.Plehn: I would never google my diagnose again. :-D
we talked for a while after this, and I was about to ask Mrs.Phlen to tell me more about her company, “brustykrebbs,” and this happened….
Silke.Plehn: Maybe you are interested in why I started to put up my pages with information about breast cancer tattoos, too?
Tejus: yeah, I was about to ask you about it…
Silke.Plehn: A few month after my treatments, I felt the need to end cancer disease. After this enforced time of passivity during surgery and treatment I wanted to get active again. Not only by fitness training but also by determing how my body should look. Cancer should not be the winner, not even by leaving scars. So I decided to get a tattoo on my right breast. The design I chose was a cancer. Maybe this was a bit defiant but I wanted to tell the "killing cancer" that he mustn´t come back because now there´s a new and better one instead. I didn´t want to hide all of the scars and I also didn´t want pretty flowers or butterflies on my breast because breast cancer isn´t nice, too. To me it was a kind of honesty to put a cancer tattoo on a part of the cancer scar. This part of my life shouldn´t be washed away, it has to be remembered but I wouldn´t let it dominate me. The experience of getting this mastectomy tattoo was so impressive and liberating that I wanted to share it with other breast cancer survivors. When I tried out to find something about this special kind of tattoos on the internet, I was disappointed. Here in Germany there was no information at all. The only inspiration I could find, was a Pinterest page of a US non-profit organization called p.ink. They showed images of breast cancer tattoos and suitable designs. So I decided to start doing the same work here in Germany.
Step by step I founded pages on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and built my own homepage. On this sites I try to inform, encourage and empower breast cancer survivors by showing them this tattoo options. The positive responses from all over the world motivate me to carry on. Furthermore I initialized the 1st Brustkrebstattoo-Tag ( breast cancer tattoo day) in October 2016. I asked five tattooers to enable a breast cancer scar coverup tattoo for five women for free. They donated their time and artwork for this event. It was so wonderful to help this five survivors! After this special tattoo day I received so many requests from all over Germany, Austria and Switzerland that I rerun this campaign this year. This time there will be 45 tattooers involved. So we will be able to change a little part of the lives of 45 survivors. I´m so happy and looking forward to October 14./15..
(a poster of this year's scar cover-up event).
you can also follow and support this event by liking, sharing, and commenting on this post, and also, don't forget to like Brustykrebstattoo on facebook, instagram, and on pinterest, do visit their website for more info. links are given below!