A Tattoo to Transcend a Breast Cancer Battle
A couple of months ago, I received a message from Angelica Scott with the subject line:
"A Tattoo to Transcend a Breast Cancer Battle - Allison W. Gryphon's Story." It stood out, especially in contrast to the tattoo supply promos and nude photos from strangers that usually flood my Inbox. I was put in touch with Allison, and indeed, she has an incredible story that is inspiring to all, even beyond those fighting cancer.
Allison, who is a novelist and award-winning screenwriter, was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer in April 2011. She says her "immediate instinct was to pick up a camera and start asking questions." The big question -- "What The F-@# Is Cancer and Why Does Everybody Have It?" -- is the title of her film, which is due to hit the film festival circuit in 2013. The documentary tells the stories of cancer fighters and also explores why it is so prevalent -- why 1 in 3 people will be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetime. She has interviewed experts on Western medicine, Eastern medicine, alternative therapies and related fields. Alison also delves into the psychological aspect of fighting cancer. She says, "[...] everyone needs to find their own way to make peace with it. That's not something the doctors can do for you. They can help guide you, but you need to find your answer. Mine was the tattoo. I don't think I would have ever felt complete without it."
Her tattoo of angel and butterfly wings placed around her breast was done by Zulu of Zulu Tattoo in Los Angeles. Zulu takes a spiritual approach to tattooing and has worked with a number of breast cancer fighters. [Miguel interviewed Zulu in 2009.] Allison says that Zulu, Khani (his wife, who runs shop) and Lauren Miyake (her friend & photographer) had become part of her family through the experience, adding: "Just as the doctors had, together these three amazing people all saved my life by giving it back to me through both Zulu's amazing work and the experience of bringing it out of me."
I naturally had a million questions and Allison has been incredibly gracious answering them. My profile on her will appear in an upcoming issue of Skin & Ink magazine. Here's a taste:
In December 2011, 38-year-old Allison W. Gryphon walked through the door of Zulu Tattoo in Los Angeles, CA for the first time. It was only a few months after her six rounds of chemotherapy for Stage III breast cancer and mere weeks after her second surgery. Her hair was gone and, even in LA, bald women still draw stares. While Zulu came highly recommended by a close friend, she didn't really know what to expect. Tattoo studios are not generally known to be sanctuaries of comfort and accommodation. But she was greeted with smiles, calmness, and she says, a sense that "can only compare to the sincere embrace of an old friend." Allison knew she chose the right place for her inaugural tattoo.
Technically, Allison had already been tattooed: eight tiny blue dots done old school style with a sharp needle and ink to line up the radiation lasers. Those radiation tattoos are the butt of many jokes among cancer fighters - real tattooed badasses. Some keep them as marks of a battle won. Others ignore them like freckles. Allison has decided to remove hers. To her, being tattooed is "to celebrate all of the amazing and wonderful changes that cancer brought into [her] life."
For more on Allison and her film, head to the "What The F-@# Is Cancer and Why Does Everybody Have It?" Facebook page, "Like" it and even share your own related stories. Also check her online cancer research center Thewhyfoundation.org.
[Photos by Lauren Miyake courtesy of WTF is Cancer Movie.]