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Monday, 24 November 2014

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Cheeky tattoo celebrates Cumbrian woman's breast cancer recovery

Brave Catherine Hadden who celebrated her recovery from breast cancer with a cheeky tattoo has been hailed an inspiration.

Catherine Hadden photo
Catherine Hadden

Recovering from a double mastectomy, the 48-year-old went through a rollercoaster of emotions, before opting to cover her surgery scars with the image of two great tit birds, sitting on a branch.

She told her story through The Cumberland News and our websites and has received overwhelming support and praise from users of our Facebook page.

A number have described her as amazing, brave and inspirational. She's also been dubbed a hero, awesome and a woman with a fantastic attitude.

Among those leaving a comment was her daughter, Rebecca, who acknowledged the many kind words by simply saying: "And I'm the lucky girl that gets to call this brave courageous woman Mam xxx"

Catherine said she was proud of her choices, saying: “When I get out of the shower each morning and go to the bathroom mirror I think, ‘What a pair of great tits’.

“I am proud of them. You do not see cancer, or being poorly. You see something positive.”

Her story also serves to warn women about the importance of checking their breasts regularly for changes.

After mastectomy, women usually have two choices – learn to love your flat chest or surgically reconstruct the breast, or breasts, that were taken away.

But for Catherine there never really was any other route to travel down. She’s spoken about her choices to mark the 25th anniversary of the Carlisle Breast Care Support Group, which is in its 25th anniversary year.

“I thought if I had a reconstruction, if cancer reappeared, how would they know if it was there? It would be covered by the silicone. Silly, really, but these are the kind of thoughts that go through your head.

“I’m really a bashful person, but the tattoo really isn’t. I didn’t go around topless before, but I don’t flinch from showing them to people, discreetly, of course,” smiled Catherine, of Orton Road, Carlisle,

Which is just as well. For the day the deed was done, daughter Rebecca, now 23, rushed in through the front door with a friend demanding to put the tattoo on Facebook.

“That was it for me. Any pretence at modesty from then on in was useless,” laughed Catherine.

“For me it was something beautiful coming from something so ugly. I liked the person I was before cancer, but I love the person I have become after cancer. It really does change you, but it doesn’t have to be for the worse.”

Women say tattoos give them a chance to reclaim their identity, to take back something they thought cancer had taken from them.

“They have a chance to put their own badge on an experience they had no control over,” said Catherine.

Tattoos aren’t exactly pain-free, of course, even for women who’ve had a nerve-decimating mastectomy.

“It was weird when I was having it done, I did feel pain, but only between where my breasts had been.”

Catherine’s ordeal began in 2007, when she noticed an unexplained “puckering of the breast skin”.

“I caught it when I was drying myself. We didn’t have a mirror at the time in the bathroom, so we went out and bought one, and when I saw the puckering I thought I had better have it seen to. I call that mirror my ‘life-saving mirror’.”

“They say life begins at 40, but what if I hadn’t done anything about it?”

A subsequent operation failed to get rid of all the cancer and two tumours.

“I decided there and then to have a mastectomy. If I had kept my breast it could have killed me. When you narrow it down, you have no choice. Your choice is life.”

Chemotherapy and a course of hormone therapy tablets followed.

“I was so poorly. It was at this time I turned to the breast group. They helped me through some tough times. We joked about things that other people wouldn’t joke about.

After her left breast had been removed Catherine made another life-changing decision, to have the remaining one taken away.

“I hated one side flat. I had very large breasts and having one was a constant reminder of my cancer. Doctors couldn’t understand my I didn’t want a reconstruction,” said Catherine.

But what made her get a tattoo?

“I saw someone with the fluffiest blue tit and decided I would have a small one. It was the tattooist’s idea to go for great tits. I must admit I was worried at first, but I love them.”

Catherine’s husband Michael, she says, has been her rock.

“I couldn’t have done it without him and he was all for the tattoo,” she added.

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