Ottawa Cancer Survivor Redefines Beauty

Kelly Davidson’s photos go viral on the Internet


In my introductory blog post, Survivorship 101 published in January, I introduced the concept of “embracing the new pretty” in the wake of my uterine and ovarian cancer. Basically this involves trying to come to terms with the physical changes to my body due to cancer treatments, an issue that all women who have had a major cancer diagnosis experience. For many survivors the changes can be profound and emotionally devastating. In the event of uterine or ovarian cancer, transformations to a woman’s body will typically include a permanently and severely scarred abdomen as well as the removal of her internal reproductive organs. Meanwhile, breast cancer patients face mastectomies, biopsies or lumpectomies. Embracing the new pretty involves accepting these physical changes and also questioning our culture’s popular notions about femininity and beauty. In my opinion, an Ottawa woman has exemplified my concept and taken it to a new level!

Kelly Davidson, 34, has battled three bouts of cancer. After surviving Hodgkin’s lymphoma, breast and thyroid cancers she had a double mastectomy and opted for a tattoo instead of reconstructive surgery. Davidson caused quite a stir recently when she posted photographs of her chest on the Internet, she has gained notoriety and been interviewed by such media outlets as the Toronto Star and the CBC. She is proud of her chest. Much of the surface between her collarbone and ribs has been transformed into an intricately inked enchanted forest, complete with beautifully drawn butterflies and a fairy releasing them into the sky. The tattoos cover the surface where her breasts used to sit, now removed to make sure her breast cancer never returns.

When it came time to consider reconstructive breast surgery, Davidson knew precisely what she wanted—and that didn’t involve a new pair. Rather than get reconstructive surgery, she opted for a tattoo. She had already been inked a few times and chose a fantasy scene with butterflies to symbolize the cancer leaving her body. “I decided to turn this negative thing into a positive, and put a beautiful piece of artwork in place of something that to a lot of people is really devastating,” Davidson says. “They were just breasts. They weren’t me—I don’t need to have breasts to be feminine or sexy,” she recently told the Toronto Star.

Taste in tattoo artwork is highly personal and individual, Davidson envisioned herself sporting a tableau that would include butterflies, creatures to represent the cancer retreating from her body for good. Proud of the finished result, she uploaded a photo of her chest to Why We Ink, a Facebook group dedicated to sharing images of those who have gotten tattoos inspired by the fight with cancer. Some of these tattoos are body mosaics, like Davidson’s, to symbolize beauty where there was once the threat of death. Others post pictures of their tattoos that honour loved ones who weren’t as fortunate.

“It’s my badge of honour and strength,” Davidson writes of her tattoo on Facebook. “It reminds me every day of the battles that I’ve overcome. I’ve won this war and hopefully I’ve beat it completely. My tattoo symbolizes a transformation, my metamorphosis, like a butterfly I changed on the outside but remained the same on the inside,” she explains.

Since uploading her photo to Facebook, Davidson’s image and story have gone viral, generating more than 700,000 “likes” and receiving 95,000 shares across the social media site. And so far, Facebook’s arbitrary nudity police have left the image up, many believe that this is a definite improvement over the furor caused when they removed a similar image of a tattooed cancer survivor’s bare chest in February. Whether the image stays put or not, Davidson has already derived great satisfaction from the messages of love and support that have poured in as a result of her bravery, strength and vulnerability. She plans to carry that strength forward this summer as she weds her fiancé, all the while knowing that her cancer could return.

I don’t have any plans to have my stomach tattooed in the near future, but I have great respect and admiration for Kelly Davidson. She stands as an inspiration to women who are fighting breast, ovarian or uterine cancer.


Kelly Davidson’s chest is a work of art.

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