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Recipient Spotlight:

Criss Stetz

After scarring from breast cancer treatment took a toll on Criss, she had a real full circle moment with her mastectomy tattoo artist.

Criss Stetz had a bilateral mastectomy in 2009 to treat breast cancer. Between the mastectomy and subsequent surgeries, she was left with lots of scar tissue on her chest, to the point that she considered her breasts “frankenboobs.” The scarring took a toll on her – when she looked in the mirror, she felt less feminine and struggled with her sense of self.

After a previous experience getting a tattoo of a rose to cover a scar connected to a painful memory, Criss was well prepared to get a mastectomy tattoo. She was a 2019 Day recipient in Prior Lake, MN where she was matched with artist Jerome “JJ” James. JJ was coincidentally the same artist who had given her the previous rose tattoo, which was a real full circle moment. Criss now admires her body covered in artwork.

We interviewed Criss 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. 

How did you feel after your mastectomy?

I felt I lost my femininity when I lost my breast to cancer. Seeing only scars left behind left me feeling very insecure and unpretty. I was so excited to participate in this event knowing tattoos would bring something beautiful and feminine and would give me so much confidence.

What was your Day experience like?

I had no trepidation during the event. The artists and the volunteers from were all so professional, personal, and caring. I felt completely comfortable. Meeting the other survivors getting their ink that day brought us all strength and was phenomenal to feel that connected with other people going through the same thing I was.

“I knew the second they revealed the tattoo that I would not see scars that had devastated me for years ever again.”

– Criss Stetz

How did you feel when you first saw your tattoo revealed?

I was overwhelmed with emotions of gratitude and happiness and was completely in awe of the beautiful artwork placed upon my body. I was completely grateful to the artist who had given his time so selflessly to do this for me. I knew the second they revealed the tattoo that I would not see scars that had devastated me for years ever again.

What’s the symbolism behind your tattoo?

The Rose tattoo symbolizes promise, hope, and new beginnings. I had a previous rose tattoo in 2008 to cover a scar on my right arm from an abusive relationship. By continuing with this theme of roses, it helped me to heal and gave me a new beginning with something more beautiful than the scars I had. I also have a pink ribbon to symbolize breast care awareness in the center of my chest.

How has your experience changed your life?

What lives on in me is the desire to pay this forward. I know there are so many other women out there who feel the way that I felt. This experience has given me so much more confidence and I feel so beautiful and blessed to be a part of this. I want others to have this opportunity to feel beautiful again.

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

I would tell them about my story and why I chose to do this. I would let them know how professional, caring, and selfless the artists and the volunteers from were through the entire process. This experience has literally changed my life for the better and has given me so much confidence.

Hear more from Criss about her experience.

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