A mother-of-three who lost both breasts to cancer has had an amazing optical illusion tattoo inked across her chest, so that it looks as though she’s wearing a beautiful bra at all times.
42-year-old Michelle Cole, from Leeds, had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery after discovering she had breast cancer back in January 2012.
Both Michelle’s mother and sister had sadly previously passed away to breast cancer, with her sister carrying the mutated BRCA1 gene, which significantly increases the risk of ovarian and breast cancer.
Michelle was later told that it was likely she carried the same gene.
And so, when Michelle awoke to find a lump in her right breast while in bed one morning, she visited a doctor, who went on to refer her for several scans at Leeds General Infirmary.
After the results from the scans came back, medics confirmed that Michelle was living with an aggressive form of breast cancer.
Michelle said: ‘My mum Kathleen Cole had breast cancer and died, aged 49, after it spread to her stomach, and my sister Deborah Dunnell also had breast cancer, which spread to her chest and she died, aged 39, so I had a feeling that I was going to get it, too.’
‘My sister had the mutated BRCA1 gene, so it was likely that I was a carrier too.’
According to Michelle, medics told her that she’d need chemotherapy straight away – but that she should think about having a mastectomy just in case the genetic testing came back showing that her cancer was hereditary.
Devastated, Michelle had eight sessions of chemotherapy, between February and May 2012.
She then opted for a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery that July – taking 10 hours – after discovering she did indeed carry the gene BRCA1.
Michelle, who’s a carer for her daughter Ellie, 11, who has cerebral palsy, said that the whole process of the mastectomy was a very ‘big deal’ for her.
‘I had a young daughter to think about. I couldn’t leave her without a mum,’ she said.
To ensure she stayed as healthy as possible, Michelle also opted to have a hysterectomy in June 2015 to reduce her risk of getting ovarian cancer.
Over the course of the first few years living post-mastectomy, with breast scarring and without nipples, Michelle decided against having either tattooed on.
However, February 2017 marked five years since the major surgery – and she decided it was finally time to start displaying her chest with pride.
To do this, Michelle felt it was important to have something spectacular tattooed across her chest. She opted for a sexy black bra that gives off the illusion she’s wearing the lacy lingerie at all times.
‘I’d been considering having a tattoo for a while, so I started to look online,’ Michelle says.
‘That’s when I came across the idea of a mastectomy tattoo, like a permanent inked bra.
‘It’s a bit different and a really great way to celebrate my breasts, five years on from cancer.
‘It’s really different. I don’t like to be like anyone else, I’ve always done the opposite.’
The tattoo, which was designed at South Heaven Tattoo Studio in Wakefield, took four months of three-hourly sessions every three weeks to complete.
It cost £720 and features a strapless bra with lacy leaves curling off it.
According to Michelle, the tattoo has given her so much confidence that she says she’s become a ‘right flasher’, even flashing her chest at parties and down the pub. ‘Everyone wants to see my boobs now,’ she joked.
Michelle continued: ‘I just started taking my top off and people are amazed when they discover I’ve got a tattoo, not a bra.’
Michelle says that she’s even inspired other people to embrace their bodies, recalling one time while on holiday, where other holidaymakers mistook her tattoo for a bikini top as she stood topless.
She said: ‘It encouraged everyone else to get their tops off, and there was a lot of staring.
‘I even had strangers coming up to me, asking me what I had on my chest, because they were so amazed by it – calling me a “legend”.
‘It made me feel really proud of everything I’d been through. I’m so grateful to the tattoo artist Hope McPherson, she did an amazing job.’
Michelle, who worries her little girl may also carry the BRCA1 gene, says her husband Paul, who she met 10 years ago, absolutely loves her tattoo.
In fact, Paul, who Michelle says thinks her tattoo ‘is great’, is his wife’s biggest fan.
He said: ‘We have an amazing relationship. I’m so proud of her and everything she’s been through.
‘And I don’t mind the flashing at all – it’s a part of her now.’