A picture truly is worth a thousand words, and Stephanie Kelly’s Instagram post is the perfect example of that. Though she has fifteen tattoos, one of them stands out among the others: a red and gold Wonder Woman symbol across her entire chest.
Kelly’s journey to choosing her chest tattoo started 14 years ago. She and her family were on were on a weekend trip and suddenly heard a speeding car approaching their vehicle. Right before the moment of impact, Kelly turned to reach for her children. Her sideways position in the car made her injuries more significant. She shares with Babble, “I have not had a well day, or a pain-free day, since that moment.” From there, her health spiraled out of control. She suffered from depression, anxiety, gastroparesis, and neuropathy. She was juggling pain, medical appointments, and nutritional issues, all while being a wife and mother.
As if her journey wasn’t relentless enough, two years ago Kelly’s mom found a lump in her breast, just eight years after initially battling breast cancer. Doctors suggested her mother get tested for the breast cancer genes. The result? Positive. Kelly and her sister were also tested and learned they, too, possessed the breast cancer genes. According to the National Cancer Institute, 45-65 percent of women who test positive for the breast cancer genes will develop breast cancer before age 70.
As Kelly watched her mom go through a bi-lateral mastectomy and chemotherapy, she made the major decision to have a preventative bi-lateral mastectomy. The genetic counselor discussed other treatment options with her, but she knew there was no denying the facts. There was really no such thing as being “too young” or too special to get breast cancer, so she made the decision to face the “lurking” Boogie Man and take her power back.
Though she chose to have the preventative surgery, saying goodbye to her natural breasts was hardly easy. Kelly tells Babble, “I don’t think there is nearly enough warning that you may truly mourn for them. It felt a bit unfair to just remove them when they had served me so well with breastfeeding.” She continued, “I had to entirely rethink my wardrobe. I liked being a curvy woman. It was hard to actively pursue removing them.”
Kelly didn’t opt for breast reconstruction after her surgery, and instead took a less conventional route. She recalls looking at other women’s photos online who chose to have tattoos cover their mastectomy scars. “It was one of those ‘aha’ moments,” she says. She decided to merge two powerful images — the Wonder Woman symbol and a phoenix — to create the perfect chest tattoo that she proudly posted on social media.
What lessons can we learn from Kelly? She shares with Babble:
“I think always being proactive is the way to go about your personal health. Never eat things your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food, stay active even if it’s something very small, just keep moving. And be proactive with your doctors. Don’t wait for them to tell you when you should have tests done; tell them you are ready.”
After all, isn’t that what Wonder Woman would do?