WARNING: Sensitive content
Grace Lombardo completed a full workout at her local gym in Boston the day before she was admitted to hospital for a major double mastectomy surgery that would last five hours.
It had been like that for the last four weeks, ever since her doctor had found a tiny tumour and a stack of precancerous cells lodged deep inside of her right breast in April, 2016.
No pain, no signs, no symptoms of a deadly disease lurking beneath her skin.
The only reason the 39-year-old had gone to the doctor was for an unrelated lactation concern, following the birth of her third child, Enzo.
"I never felt sick, I actually felt really great," she told news.com.au.
"But I would wake up every morning, knowing there was cancer in my body, and I wanted it out."
At just 35 years old, Grace said goodbye to her husband Joe, 44, and children, Luca, 10, Cecilia, 8, Enzo, 5, and was wheeled into the operating theatre for a procedure that would change her life forever.
A second surgery came soon after, as well as chemotherapy, which saw her lose all of her hair in the space of two days.
Now, four years later, Grace has recalled this terrifying time was spent on "autopilot" as well as in a state of complete powerlessness.
While undergoing aggressive chemotherapy, Grace watched as her children would pull clumps of her hair out of her head with ease.
"I lost all my hair, eyebrows, my lashes, I lost everything," she said.
"At that point, I felt this complete lack of femininity. I didn't have breasts, I didn't have hair, I couldn't feel anything because my nerves were damaged."
Grace's long brunette mane had been a huge part of her identity, and watching it fall out left her "absolutely devastated".
"I started wondering if I was ever going to be attractive again, or if I was ever going to feel like a woman again," Grace said.
FINDING A NEW IDENTITY
After flicking through her local paper one day in 2017, Grace saw an article on Chicago-based tattoo artist, David Allan, who specialised in mastectomy tattoos.
David began work as a graphic designer before switching to tattoo art and pioneering a way for women to cover their surgical scars after surviving breast cancer.
"I had never had a tattoo before, but I just knew it was what I wanted to do," Grace said.
"I saw his work, and everything became so clear. I wanted to tattoo my right breast and reclaim a part of myself that had been lost."
AN OVERWHELMING FEELING
Her first words when she looked in the mirror were: "How did you do that?!"
"It was so overwhelming when I looked in the mirror for the first time, I couldn't even harness an emotion," she said.
"It was just shocking that suddenly, my body carried this fine art."
Grace now discusses her journey through to the other side of breast cancer and beyond on her Instagram account, Grancer For Real, which celebrates her life in a vibrant, lighthearted way.
The famous artist has a waiting list about six months long for his mastectomy tattoos, which he only does in black ink, as it's safer for his clients.
His sessions cost between $2,880 and $4,300 each, which includes a full day of consultation, one-on-one design and the tattoo itself.
"The breast is a very difficult area to tattoo, because you have to be really present and take a lot of the emotion that comes with the process," he told news.com.au.
His stunning tattoos are posted regularly on his Instagram page.
David performed his first mastectomy tattoo about a decade ago, and found the process of helping women move past their trauma extremely gratifying.
"Tattoos are almost like a timeline of a person's life, but this is an entirely different experience, it's beautiful," David said.
"I am able to use my art form to help someone in their healing process, which is so powerful to me."
He is now known across the world as the foremost mastectomy tattoo artists in the game, with women constantly contacting him in the hope of being added to his waitlist.
For Grace, thinking of life without her tattoo is difficult, because it has become a part of who she is.
"I would still be avoiding mirrors, I know that much," she said.
"I would feel less feminine, I'd have more problems with intimacy, it has really changed my life."
Grace said her chest was once a battlefield, "but now it's a flower field".
"I've tackled something, and this brought me back to life, and that makes me feel really powerful," she said.
David and Grace were recently in Australia to celebrate the launch of the ghd ink on pink collection.
The new friends have also just finished filming a short documentary, 'Grace', which explores the mum's journey on the other side of cancer.
Their visit also comes ahead of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in October.