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The surprising story behind my dragon tattoo

The surprising story behind my dragon tattoo.

I never, ever thought I’d get a tattoo, let along a dragon tattoo. Not that I had anything against tattoos, but in my world, having a tattoo never even crossed my mind. Maybe because I was kind of a nerd in school. My best friend was a dog. I played on the badminton team in high school (go Saints!). I got straight As and went to a top-tier university. I worked and got married and had a kid.

But then…

In 2011, I received the shocking diagnosis that I had breast cancer. Everything started happening so fast. The pills, the doctor visits, the bloodwork, the tests, the surgery. The scars.

I felt like I was so scarred up and unbeautiful that I wanted to do something for myself in the midst of this nightmare. I wanted to choose my own “scar” and make it gorgeous. I wanted to feel strong again.

The artist hard at work

Beginnings …

Tail and talons coming along nicely

Um … ouch …

My sister says he has “Paddington eyes,” after her Persian cat. (He does!)

Almost there …


Then one day as I was receiving a Reiki treatment, I had a vision of dragons flying through a storm to come and heal me. In Japanese philosophy, dragons are seen as an embodiment of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and space). These elements are also represented by the dragon pearl, which is believed to provide ultimate healing.

My dragon tattoo gave me renewed strength!

As strange as it sounds, I felt so strong after the treatment. I began to feel strong dragon energy when I meditated and even when I felt afraid. It was as if the dragon helped me to find that deepest, strongest part of myself that I never even knew existed! And just in the nick of time, with all the treatments I would have to face over the next several months.

Once I began to get stronger, I began researching Japanese tattoo artists in San Francisco, and I found Colin Stevens of Body Manipulations, who just happened to also be the son of John Stevens, a Buddhist scholar whose books line my shelves. And when I met Colin, he was so soft-spoken and kind, I knew he was the artist for me.

We leafed through pages and pages of vintage Asian artwork. I watched as he sketched. And soon, my dragon was born. As I lay on the table for the five hours it took to ink my tattoo (which might not be comfortable for most), I felt right at home as I stared at the beautiful bonji calligraphy of “A” on Colin’s wall (drawn by his famous father) that signifies the beginning of all things. I realized that as a cancer survivor, I was ready to begin again–stronger and maybe even better than before!

As I got up off the table and looked at my new beautiful tattoo, I said to Colin, “Wow, I’m not sure I can live up to this!” It was so big and tough looking! He smiled and said, “Oh yes you can!”

When the cancer came back in 2013, my dragon helped me to remember I am strong. I am beautiful. I can fight this. He was there through all of my radiation treatments and through another healing process.

I know my dragon will always be with me to help remind me of my inner strength, determination and ability to heal from anything.

Do you have a tattoo (or two or three)? I’d love to hear your inspirational stories behind the ink.

{Photos © Kathleen Prasad}

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