Kanahooka woman Carrie Jewell-Dugo didn’t hesitate to undergo a mastectomy to save the life of her unborn child - but she did mourn the loss of her femininity.
Now an elaborate corset tattoo which took 90 hours over 12 months to create has given the mother-of-three back her confidence.
On a photo shoot for the Mercury, the 37-year-old stood proud and beautiful as she showed off the tattoo which covers the scars and lumps caused by a double mastectomy and five subsequent reconstructive surgeries.
‘‘I found out I had breast cancer the same day I discovered I was three months' pregnant.''
Now living in the US with her husband Jason and children, she’s back for her 20-year high school reunion and she can’t wait to catch up with old friends.
She’s five-years cancer free, is happy and healthy, and has no regrets.
‘‘In 2009 I was breastfeeding my first child, Chayse, when I found a lump in my breast,’’ she said.
‘‘I found out I had breast cancer the same day I discovered I was three months' pregnant with my second child, Taylor.
‘‘I went to dozens of doctors who told me that they wouldn’t treat me unless I aborted my baby, but I’d previously had a miscarriage and that just wasn’t an option.’’
Two hours before the mastectomy, Mrs Jewell-Dugo was still breastfeeding Chayse. When she looked down at her chest after the surgery, tears streamed down her face.
Chemotherapy began, and continued after Taylor came into the world in October that year. Mrs Jewell-Dugo then made the difficult decision to have her other breast removed.
‘‘It was a super stressful time - I kept having complications from chemo and my immunity was down so I ended up in the emergency room with infections regularly,’’ she said.
‘‘I had five reconstructive surgeries but because of constant infections, they
didn’t heal properly and my chest ended up misshapen.
‘‘I would get very depressed, especially when I bathed with my kids and they asked me what had happened to my boobs.’’
It was a dark time for Mrs Jewell-Dugo and one that ultimately saw her refuse any more chemotherapy.
Instead she became a convert to the Gerson Therapy, a natural treatment which she said activated her body’s ability to heal itself through an organic plant-based diet.
Her body indeed healed and she discovered she was pregnant again - with Daniel, now two years old.
It was her children who then helped her come up with a solution to heal her body image issues.
While applying facepaint to her children’s smiling faces one day, one piped up ‘Let’s paint over your scars mummy’.
‘‘I thought ‘what a great idea’,’’ she said.
‘‘I’d always loved The Rocky Horror Picture Show and thought a corset would be perfect as it would cover the areas I was concerned about.
‘‘I found a tattoo artist and began. Every time I had a session I felt more empowered, I felt stronger, bolder and braver than before.’’
Since her transformation, she’s graced the cover of a US Rebel Ink tattoo magazine, alongside another inspirational figure Alex Minsky, a marine who lost his leg in Afghanistan.
She’s started a blog www.thehappyhealthyhousewife.com and is still running a dog grooming salon back home in the Catskill Mountains.
For the time being though, she’s back home with family in Kanahooka - where her story began.