Three years ago, Barbie Ritzco had a double mastectomy.
But instead of hiding her scars away, Barbie did something quite marvellous: she designed a stunning, heart-shaped tattoo that spanned her entire chest.
Then, she posed for a topless selfie that was posted on the Flat and Fabulous Facebook group page earlier this month — and it’s so breathtaking, it’s going viral.
Of the design, Ms Ritzco’s friend Sara Bartosiewicz -Hamilton told Mic: “She wanted it to look like her chest was bursting open.”
“Ugly on the outside, beautiful on the inside.”
Ms Ritzco, who has served in the US Marine Corps for 20 years, was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2011 — just months after being deployed to Afghanistan. She underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy, the bilateral mastectomy, and then radiation every day for six weeks — and ran the Marine Corps marathon while she was still undergoing radiation therapy, as The Huffington Post reports.
Ms Ritzco wrote for the SCAR Project that she wants to challenge the way people view breast cancer survivors.
“I don’t believe most people actually ‘see’ breast cancer. They hear about it but they don’t listen. It is just a terrible thing that happens to everyone else but could never happen to them,” she wrote.
“As awkward and uncomfortable as it may be for others to view, I am not embarrassed or ashamed. My young life has been rudely interrupted — and yet, I continue to forge on and accomplish things that others only talk and dream about,” she said.
She also wants her tattoo to help inspire other survivors bearing their own mastectomy scars.
“A lot of these women, they didn’t know that there were other women like them,” she said.
“That’s why I put myself out there to be seen, and see that there’s a light at the end of tunnel: If she can do it, then I can do it’.”
Unfortunately, Ms Ritzco’s cancer has recently recurred. A message on 16 August by Ms Bartosiewicz -Hamilton on Facebook announced that sad news, but welcomed the Flat and Fabulous community’s thoughts and wishes.
“Asking for your thoughts, prayers, healing energy to be sent to my co-founder and the strongest woman I know, Barbie,” the post read.
The message included Ms Ritzco’s now-famous selfie — and urged followers to “please, share this photo.”
“She always wanted this to go viral,” the post read.
“Let’s help do that for her now.”
Click through to see some other beautiful body-positive images – this time, from the Instagram project Love Your Lines: