Twice, breast cancer tried to take Helene Ravlich's life. But she survived.
She plans to celebrate that survival by having a mastectomy tattoo inked over and around her reconstructed breast.
In November, Ravlich will sit down with Seventh Day Studio tattoo artist Hannah Nova Dudley and design a mastectomy tattoo similar to the floral designs used by high-profile American tattoo artist David Allen.
Ravlich, an Auckland freelance writer and mum-of-one, will be inked free of charge as part of a celebration of the 15 years of partnership between hair care products manufacturer ghd and the Breast Cancer Foundation in raising money for the foundation.
A hand-drawn design by Allen also features on limited edition pink hair tools as part of the Ink on Pink campaign. Each sale gives $20 to the foundation in a bid to support the 3300 women and 25 men in New Zealand diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
Allen has written on his website about the approach he received from a woman wanting a mastectomy tattoo, to conceal chest scarring after a mastectomy and reconstruction.
"Her scar was concealed but, more importantly, she took back control. I'll never forget it. What was clinical became beautiful again. We turned sterile into sensual. We took back control."
For Ravlich, her mastectomy tattoo isn't about covering up the breast reconstruction she had after her single mastectomy.
"It's not really hiding, because where you're getting it done it's not out and about like a wrist. But it's for me and I'll know it's there, or when I'm wearing a bikini or a strapless top other people will know it's there. But it's sort of like a celebration, and a beautification, rather than hiding something.
"It's a celebration of being alive and I suppose a celebration of having got through all of that s***, over all of those years."
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Ravlich, 47, was diagnosed with breast cancer aged 40, and had a lumpectomy and radiation.
"It was considered the gold standard treatment; it was never going to come back. Five years later almost to the day it came back in exactly the same place."
The experience was terrifying, she said.
"I'd never expected it to come back because after five years of breezily going through life going 'right, cancer, ticked that box, nailed it' it was all back again and it was a much more extreme approach."
She had a mastectomy and then a reconstruction, using a muscle from her back, going through four surgeries.
Post-surgery complications included a frozen shoulder and a lot of pain.
"Even though I didn't have chemotherapy I spent 18 months feeling like rubbish."
Although she already had 11 tattoos she had never thought about having a mastectomy tattoo.
After her nipple reconstruction a cosmetic tattooist tried to do the colouring, but the ink didn't take.
The mastectomy tattoo meant that wouldn't matter.
"When I saw David Allen's work, I thought 'why didn't I just get something done like that from the get-go?'"
Dudley offered to do Ravlich's mastectomy tattoo because her own family had been touched by the disease — two of her grandparents had previously been diagnosed with cancer.
"I thought it would be awesome to help out if I could. If I can give someone a beautiful tattoo over something horrible that's happened to them, I want to do it."
Ravlich's tattoo would be a custom design, she said.
Ravlich had already seen Dudley's work, and was looking forward to what they could create together, she said.
"I love her flowers and I love birds and butterflies. I've never had any tattoos like that and I've always wanted something like that."