I’ve done something extraordinary. I got a tattoo.

I can’t really say why anyone chooses to get a tattoo. It certainly is painful to have your skin repeatedly sliced open. Brutally so when it’s a large area, on the thin skin over many bones, and you have to stay still for hours and just take it. Some of the usual designs (like skulls) lead me to believe that people do it to prove that they’re tough. Death-defiers. Personally, I think there’s enough grief and agony in the world, and in my own life. I don’t have any desire to advertise that. The pain of the tattoo is just the doorway to permanent body art.

It started out as a way to reclaim my body after the mutilating surgeries of cancer. I opted out of reconstructed breasts, which have no feeling. The nerves are cut and the skin is numb. Reconstructed breasts wouldn’t have been for me, they would’ve been for looks, for someone looking at me. I didn’t want them in the way when I hugged. So all I had were these scars––armpit to armpit––and nothing else.

This tattoo was not an impulse decision. When I had bilateral mastectomy surgery, I requested a flat tablet outcome so I could get a tattoo. I’ve had four years to figure this out. I’ve known for several years what it would be. I fiddled around with henna and permanent markers to could get my head around the idea. Last week I had a two hour session to get the outline done. Next week I go back to get it filled in.

My tattoo will rarely be seen by anyone else. I see it often. I see it when I shower or change clothes. It’s looking back at me from the mirror. Even when I can’t see it, I know it’s there. It’s for me. Not the me that is culturally defined (like breasts are for women), but the me that is the seed of my being. It’s a full-chest tattoo of the Thunderbird.

I chose the Thunderbird because I wanted to honor two of my Indian names: Red Thunderbird Woman and Black Thunderbird Woman. I wanted to embody the spiritual power which has assisted me on my life journey. After only one week, I can feel this energy growing.

I also have a strong intuitive awareness that there is something in my future that requires me to do this. The distant future. Like ten years from now. I have no idea what that is. But I’m honoring that too. Like a lot of the mystical, this won’t make sense to many people. It does to me. I’m following through.