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Recipient Spotlight:
Cat Thisius

After reconstruction surgery left Cat Thisius feeling depressed, her tattoos changed her life.

Cat Thisius was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2018. Her diagnosis shook her – no one in her family had cancer and she was playing roller derby in the best shape of her life. Her mission after diagnosis was to play the last game of the season, and after surgery and the addition of a plastic chest guard, that is exactly what she did. Cat’s reconstruction initially made her feel deep depression, but her tattoos changed her life.

Cat found out about from social media and knew she wanted to get a tattoo after struggling with seeing her scars. Cat got the call telling her she was selected for the 2019 Day event in Minneapolis, MN while standing in her classroom where she teaches preschool.

We interviewed Cat to find out what her Day experience was like and what advice she has for anyone thinking about mastectomy tattoos or applying to the Personal Ink program.

After it was all done…I was just so at peace, it was like a big veil lifted off of me. I’m done, I’m recovered, I’m cured. This is exactly what I needed.

– Cat Thisius

decorative floral graphic

How would you describe your view of yourself before and after your transformation? What’s been your biggest challenge before, during, and after this experience? What’s been your biggest “aha” moment?

Before the transformation, I was depressed, felt bad about myself, and didn’t feel like a full woman. The biggest challenge was losing my self-confidence in myself. I knew I was in the top shape of my life and very self-confident. I was playing roller derby at a higher level than before, and the diagnosis had taken that all away. I was rebuilding, but still didn’t have the same confidence.

During the transformation, I was excited. I had my mom and sister drive over from the Chicago area to be with me. I also had my daughter with me, which was amazing. My daughter sat there and held my hand while Jack tattooed me.

At the event, I went in with a migraine and went into shock. That’s why we did my tattoo in three sessions. That put me in a tailspin. The first session was 3-3.5 hours and I got the chills and shakes. I felt horrible on the ride home, the whole 1.5-2 hour drive wrapped in blankets. That was the most challenging part of the transformation.

After the transformation, I was flashing everyone. I was very proud of them. I had three different sessions and on my third session, I got a hummingbird. I never sit still, I’m high energy, and always going from one thing to another, so I consider myself a hummingbird. But I’m not done yet, I want more.

After it was all done, I don’t think there was anything really difficult. I was just so at peace, it was like a big veil lifted off of me. I’m done, I’m recovered, I’m cured, this is exactly what I needed. My aha moment was when I saw the tattoo for the first time, knowing that what just happened was life-changing.

What was the highlight of your event for you? What about the most challenging part of the event?

The highlight of the event was having my family there to share this transformation with me. My mom and sister drove 5 hours to be there. My daughter was in college and she met us there.

The most challenging part was not feeling well. But the whole event in general, being there with other survivors, hearing their stories, and knowing others who went through this journey gave me a sense of community.

If you had to choose one word or statement to describe how you felt during your event reveal, what would that be? Why?

Empowered. Why? Looking in the mirror for the first time, I felt like I was myself again. I didn’t see the scars; I saw beautiful flowers, which was empowering. I can get through this and don’t have to look in the mirror every day and feel bad. I can look in the mirror every day and feel like a badass.

What piece of advice would you share with potential future recipients? What piece of advice would you share with your younger self?

I would advise future recipients to just go for it if they have the opportunity. It’s a life-changing event and a gift that can change your whole outlook on life.

To my younger self, I would say you are strong and can get through anything. Have faith, believe in yourself, and the power of prayer.

What’s one of your proudest moments?

Sharing my story and empowering women to get their mammograms. I was a pink ribbon mentor for other women diagnosed. I was helping them realize that it’s going to be okay and it’s one chapter in your book of life.

What’s next on your healing journey?

I think maybe adding a little more to my tattoo. Continuing to keep myself healthy, advocate for early detection, and speak out. Even though I am cancer free, I’m still worried about other women out there so they don’t have to go through this, too.


Artist attribution: Jack Poulsen

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