The surprising story behind my dragon tattoo

I never, ever thought I’d get a 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.

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. 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 my cancer came back last year, 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 even now as I begin to heal once again. 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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Kathleen Prasad

Kathleen Prasad is an entrepreneur, author, educator, spiritual seeker and animal advocate living in beautiful Marin County, California, with her husband, daughter, dog and two horses. She loves being with animals, listening to hip-hop, eating out at vegan restaurants, riding dressage, hiking in the redwoods and traveling the world to meet animal people.
You can learn more about Kathleen here.

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Comments (35)

  • Avatar

    Samantha

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    My brother and I sat while my mom read out of her book of Chinese horoscopes and even as a child, I was THRILLED to hear her read that I was born in the Year of the Dragon and that my element was Fire. What a combination, right? So my first tattoo, my 21st birthday present to myself, was simply the Chinese character for “Dragon.” (Yes, I DID have it checked by multiple native Chinese speakers!) I had a knack for fantasy from my earliest memories; wizards, warriors, queens, dragons, mystical creatures, magical powers. And the to actually BE a Dragon in REAL LIFE? What could be better to a child’s imagination?

    I’m glad your Dragons are helping you through your ordeals. They remind us to remain strong, but fluid and flexible, light enough to float away on a breeze but strong enough to take on the mountains themselves. Blessed be.

    Reply

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    Kathleen Prasad

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    Hi Samantha, Thanks for your comment. I love that you have a dragon character tattoo! Yes it sounds perfect for you 🙂 I love what you say, that they are strong, fluid and flexible, light and yet strong too, that is beautiful 🙂 blessings to you too!

    Reply

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    Bettina

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    I have to admit that I’m slightly ashamed that I’m learning about your treatment and tattoo from your blog. As your cousin, I owe you more than that, and I feel like I’m late to the game. That being said, I think we share in common the reasons for tattooing our bodies. When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2007, I realized I was going to have to cede some control over my body. In the past seven years it has taken away my handwriting, my ability to play the piano easily, and a host of other things. I got my first tattoo because I wanted to stake a claim – this is still my skin, my body, even if it doesn’t always do what I ask. I chose the Little Prince, from the book by St. Exupery. I’m an admirer of the author and his mythical character. When I broke my hip in January, I started thinking about a second tattoo – this time I chose a dopamine heart. One molecule of dopamine (the critical neurotransmitter I’m lacking due to Parkinson’s) encased in a heart with th barbed-wire outline. Those are my dragons – and I hope they continue to give me strength as yours has for you. Much love and many blessings – I imagine somewhere there’s a dragon requesting a tattoo of you on his arm to give him courage.

    Reply

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      Kathleen Prasad

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      Bettina, thank you for your beautiful words! You know, you are an inspiration, and i am proud you are my cousin 🙂 Love, K

      Reply

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      Charlotte Jensen

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      Your tattoos sound beautiful and inspiring, Bettina!

      Reply

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    Kris Azzarello

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    Hi Kathleen,

    Beautiful blog! (And tatoo)

    Thank you for sharing your story – it is so powerful and empowering and inspiring. the tattoo is truly inspired! (( always trust those visions during a Reiki treatment).

    Much love,

    Kris

    Reply

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      Kathleen Prasad

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      Thank you Kris 🙂 Reiki love to you!

      Reply

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    Karren O'Sullivan

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    Kathleen, I see you in my minds eye with a flower in your hair and a dragon tattoo on your arm…you truly embody your Spirit of Peaceful Warrior! I’m grateful for you in my life and for your heart felt, living breathing blog… Love, Karren XO

    Reply

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      Kathleen Prasad

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      Hi Karren, You are so sweet 🙂 I am grateful for you too! Love, K

      Reply

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    Kay Robinson

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    Kathleen,

    Such an inspirational story! I love your tattoo. And I have wondered about yours, what it was, and the story behind it. Thank you for sharing.

    I’ve always wanted one; at least one. My friends and I get spurts of planning, deciding, etc., about our first tattoos. Then we lose our focus! And now, I’m on all these immunosuppressive medications…so “they” say one shouldn’t get a tattoo while on these drugs. More time to plan I guess <3

    Love and Blessings,

    Kay

    Reply

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      Kathleen Prasad

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      Hi Kay, Thanks, you are so sweet, and thanks too for sharing 🙂 Yes I think you will be ready with the awesomest idea for a tattoo once you are ready healthwise to get one! 🙂 Be Well….

      Love, Kathleen

      Reply

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    Nancy Gallant

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    Hi Kathleen,

    I was just talking about you the other day (no coincidences). I know you have had lots of students but you are one of my only Reiki teachers! I wanted to let you know how several of your lessons have helped me through my own breast cancer treatment (diagnosed in January, surgery in February, 5 months of chemo March through August and just 4 treatments to go of 33 radiation treatments). I was hospitalized for 9 days after my 13th chemo with a very serious case of shingles. One concept you taught me that has been particularly helpful has been that our divine spark is absolutely perfect and shines as bright on days when we are struggling through health challenges as it does when we were young and perfectly healthy. For the past 6 weeks, I have pictured that divine spark connecting to the divine spark of the radiation therapists during treatment (while they play new-age spa music per my request!). We are all connected! I feel so blessed to have had so much spiritual growth and wonderful teachers and lessons before my diagnosis that has made the whole process easier to navigate. I still have another mastectomy to go (and likely ovary removal as well instead of continuing to take Tamoxifen which they started one week after my chemo ended) but I’m feeling loved and not alone. I have so many people praying for me, sending me love and Reiki and I have my 3 rescue cats and 2 bomb detection German Shepherds who share their love and energy with me! And, I do have a tattoo, a simple angel symbol on my right wrist which is my surgery side. I lost a lot of lymph nodes on that side so I’ll not be able to get any more ink on that arm, making my angel tattoo all the more special as it represents my spiritual growth and those who have past who are surrounding me with love always.

    Hugs and Reiki Love to you, Kathleen! Thank you for sharing your wisdom for so long and your story here about your beautiful tattoo. Nancy, Ipswich, MA

    Reply

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      Kathleen Prasad

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      Dear Nancy, Thank you for sharing your journey. You are an amazing warrior! I am so happy to hear the teachings have helped you through your journey. I love your visualization of the divine spark as you go through your radiation. So happy to hear you are almost done with that part 🙂 I think you have a very special angel watching over you, and I love that you have an angel tattoo 🙂

      Glad to hear you have also many animals taking care of you 🙂 Just take one day at a time, and yes you are perfect, strong, healed and in harmony even at this very moment! I am seeing you that way right NOW 🙂

      With love, K

      Reply

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    Kathi Richards

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    My tattoo is a lotus blossom on my back. If I recall correctly the lotus blossom is an Egyptian symbol of creativity. At the time I got it I was into Middle Eastern dance. Though I can’t see it I know it is there and feel it’s presence. Be well, Kathleen. Blessings

    Reply

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      Kathleen Prasad

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      Hi Kathi, Thanks for sharing 😉 Your tattoo sounds beautiful and so perfect as you are one of the most creative people I know! 🙂 Love, Kathleen

      Reply

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    Caroline Thomas

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    Having seen the tatto in person, I love its beauty and strength. You are a truly amazing lady Kathleen.! I am so happy that you have been able to share this wonderful news that your dragons are keeping you safe and healthy. Whoop! Whoop! Dragon energy rocks

    Reply

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      Kathleen Prasad

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      Hi dear Caroline,

      Thanks for your kind words, you are so sweet. I agree, Dragon energy rocks! 🙂

      Reply

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    connie mcdermott

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    Hi Kathleen! I have 5 tattoos! A butterfly, moon, rose, a cat and a coat of arms from my favorite book series with their motto “je suis priest” which means I am ready which has meant a lot to me. I am ready to learn, accept, heal. 🙂

    Reply

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      Kathleen Prasad

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      Hi Connie, Wow I love the topics of all your tattoos. Now I must start thinking of my next one 🙂 Love your motto, “I am ready.” Yes that is a good one for life isn’t it!

      Reply

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    Dale Payne

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    Lovely story and tattoo Kathleen. Thanks for sharing it with us-inspirational and magical.
    I don’t have any yet, but after the death of my soul mate kitty, Cosmo, I have had the vision of him watching over me, with Angel wings and sunshine beaming around him. So I’d like to capture that vision in a “catttoo.” It will probably be placed on the back of my shoulder so he can continue to watch over me and beam his loving light to me. xoxoxo Dale

    Reply

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      Kathleen Prasad

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      Hi Dale, I love your cattoo vision, and can’t wait to see it manifested in a beautiful shoulder tattoo 🙂 Love and light!

      Reply

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    David Walker

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    Wonderful story Kathleen,under the circumstances. For the record,I have full back,in Native American design.right & left full sleeves,left side dragon,right side 3 koi carp.
    Went thru a hell of a time,culminating in a failed suicide attempt.The ink helped at the time,and like your artist,mine was a gentle Buddhist too.the ink still helps,and I find it a daily inspiration,especially if I ain’t feeling on top of the world.Be good to see you over here in the UK,perhaps have a show & tell !!
    Take care,Kathleen,the work you do is inspiring to so many.
    david,x.

    Reply

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      Kathleen Prasad

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      Hi David, Thanks for sharing about your tattoos. Wow your tattoos sound very impressive, I have a ways to go 🙂 I am happy to hear how healing the tattoos have been for you! Yes I will be in England at the end of August, and will be doing an evening talk on animal Reiki in Essex–would love to meet you and see your ink in person 🙂 Blessings!

      Reply

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    Bobbi Lynn Peters

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    That is GORGEOUS! As a woman sporting ink – each piece makes up a line in my story. My latest is the Reiki kanji with my beloved Simon’s mitten (paw..) – my adopted cat that came into my life when he was 12 years old – and lived to be 24. He was my best friend and the inspiration that started me on the Reiki journey for animals.. It’s located in the same location as yours and it’s a great reminder to practice, be present, and when all else fails…just for today…I loved reading this ..you continue to inspire me and so many…thank you.

    Reply

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      Kathleen Prasad

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      Hi Bobbi, thanks for sharing about you Simon mitten tattoo. That is wonderful, the spiritual wisdom it brings you. How beautiful that he was such an inspiration to your Reiki journey. Wishing you many blessings!

      Reply

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    Angela

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    Hi Kathleen, I know this post is from over a year ago, so I hope you are doing well now? 🙂

    I only have one rather small tattoo. An oak leaf on my shoulder. The oak represents strength and I’ve seen various sources of info that it’s the tree of the month of my birth – actually starting on my birthday in some sources.

    I had the tattoo many years ago when my marriage was in trouble. I was given two pieces of beautiful jewellery, commissioned just for me and featuring oak leaves, in the following years but I don’t wear those anymore since my marriage finally ended a few years ago. I will wear my oak leaf tattoo on my shoulder forever though.

    I don’t know if I’ll have anymore tattoos. I do like them, but I was such a big wuss with this small one I have that I’m not sure I could go through it again. It would be something dog/wolf related if I did though. My love for animals is eternal.

    Reply

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      Kathleen Prasad

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      Hi Angela,
      Thanks for sharing about your oak leaf tattoo. Sounds beautiful! I would love to hear if you ever get another one 🙂 An animal one would be great 🙂

      I am doing really well right now, thank you! 🙂 Blessings!

      Reply

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        Angela

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        Hi Kathleen,

        Very glad you are doing really well. I so hope that continues 🙂

        My little tattoo is really rather basic and nothing spectacular to look at, but it represents something much greater for me 🙂 I am not sure I will end up with another, certainly not at this time, but I do love to see what inspires others to have meaningful designs. I think if I had spare cash right now, I’d likely treat myself to a new crystal – less painful! .

        Reply

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          Kathleen Prasad

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          Thanks for sharing Angela! Haha, yes crystals are lovely too 🙂

          Reply

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    Kelcy

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    Hi Kathleen, firstly I want to say that you are such an inspiration to me. I started practicing animal Reiki a few years ago and it has changed my life. I work with an animal rescue in NYC and I have been the channel in which has helped so many dogs and cats.
    Secondly, your tattoo is so radical! I love it! You have inspired me for another tattoo idea. I currently have 3 tattoos. One is the Chinese character for ‘good health’ and it is on the back of my neck. The second one is the Sei He ki Reiki symbol and it’s on the inside of my wrist. The last one is a quote I wrote and it’s in my handwriting–
    “I breathe in light and fall back into darkness”– to me it mean having faith and taking risks. It is on the inside of my left arm.
    Sending you Reiki love!

    Reply

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      Kathleen Prasad

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      Hi Kelcy, Thanks for your kind words. I am so glad you are helping rescued animals with Reiki! 🙂 Your tattoos sounds beautiful, all 3! Let me know if you get a new one 🙂 Blessings to you!

      Reply

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    Carolyn Trethewey

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    This is such a beautiful story Kathleen! You ARE so strong and so beautiful, I’m glad your dragon reminds you of this everyday. 🙂

    Much love xx Carolyn

    Reply

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    Linda

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    You are amazing. Your story of illness and recovery is truly inspirational. And you do so much for other people and animals! I’ve considered getting a tattoo but I’m a little chicken about the pain. I can see how it could be very empowering and a good reminder though. Maybe I’ll consider yet… I love your dragon.

    Reply

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      Kathleen Prasad

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      Thanks for your kind words Linda. Dragons are great reminders of healing power 🙂

      Reply

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