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How to Make Art Out of a Double Mastectomy

A candid Q&A with the star of Equinox's striking new ad.

by Joanne Spataro
Jan 11 2017, 3:00pm

Image: Equinox

In a bold new ad campaign for the gym chain Equinox, artist and writer Samantha Paige proudly bares her chest as a tattoo artist appears to ink an ornate floral design across the patch of skin where her left breast used to be. Paige, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 21, had both of her breasts preemptively removed after she discovered she carried the BRCA-1 gene mutation in 2008. She got breast implants, but had them taken out in 2016. 

"I don't have an opinion on whether implants are right or wrong," Paige says. "My hope is to inspire everyone to figure out what's important to them." One way Paige hopes to do that is by chronicling her journey in Last Cut, a photo-documentary and podcast series in which she tackles "those big life decisions made to bring us closer to living truth." 

We talked to Paige about what motivated her to get the surgery, what she hopes to teach other women, and whether or not that amazing tattoo is permanent. 

What made you decide to get the surgery?
I didn't have breast cancer, so that's important to note. I had thyroid cancer when I was 21 years old and my mother is a breast cancer survivor. She had breast cancer in her early 30s. I was encouraged to do the breast cancer gene testing because there are studies that show a higher risk for breast cancer if you've had thyroid cancer. I tested positive for the BRCA-1 gene mutation. 

Before my daughter turned one, I decided I wanted to be healthy for my girl and I elected to have a preventive double mastectomy. I think that's so much of what this image is about, showing up as my individual self and carrying my story in a really empowered way. And it's about committing to what I knew I needed to do for my own wellness and freedom. 

Do you encourage other women to be proactive about getting tested?
It's such a personal choice. Taking that test and sitting with the results if they are positive makes you feel like a ticking time bomb in some respects. You have to be prepared and at a point in your life to take action—or not take action. I'm not preaching that all women should take their implants out; I'm not preaching that everyone who tests positive for BRCA-1 should have a preventative mastectomy. All I can say is that you should do an internal inventory of what's important to your own health and wellness and move forward from there.

Why did you get the implants initially?
I was told, "Most women are happy and it looks mostly normal if you get either the silicone memory gel implants or saline implants." I felt pressure that it was what I should do to feel normal. Then I came down with a MRSA staph infection, and for the second half of 2015 I was really sick and I couldn't get rid of it. 

Earlier that year, one of my dear friends had come over to my house and she said she was having her silicone implants removed. I wanted to have them out, too.

What do you want your daughter to take from this experience?
What I tell her is the same message I tell anyone—that there's beauty in the differences we bring to the table, whether that's your body shape, skin color, scars, gender, chest, money. I want my daughter to know that the only path I could wish for her is that she feels comfortable in her own skin and that she doesn't feel compelled to want to alter something about her body. I want her to feel like she doesn't have to conform. That's my hope.

So, is the tattoo real? 
No. I have many tattoos, but I don't have any on my chest. That was beautifully drawn by a tattoo artist named Amanda Wachob. I'm actually proud of these scars and love what they represent. I'll be tattooing around them if I get more, but I'm not ready to cover them.