Jennifer Yang, The Edmonton JournalPublished: Wednesday, October 29
EDMONTON - Hailey Melnyk was 18 when a tattoo saved her life.
Melnyk had finished a whirlwind trip through the United States and Europe when she decided to have a pair of swallows tattooed on her hips, adhering to an old sailor tradition symbolizing the crossing of two oceans.
The day after getting the tattoo, Melnyk started having trouble breathing and noticed inflamed lymph nodes on her thighs.
She went to see a doctor. The troubled look on his face said it all.
"I looked at him and said, 'I have cancer, don't I?' He just shook his head and said, 'We'll find out.' "
Melnyk was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, cancer that originates in the lymph nodes and spreads.
Her cancer was so advanced, tumours sprouted all over her body, including one in her chest the size of a grapefruit. That spot is now marked with a sacred heart tattoo that reads, in Spanish: "All my life for my love."
Melnyk never noticed anything wrong until those inky sparrows alighted on her hips. As it turned out, the physical stress of getting a tattoo triggered her cancer to manifest itself, she said.
"The (tattoos) were really something that really changed my life, both for the good and the bad. They were definitely the starting point of my new life ... I just always wanted to testify my life on my body at that point."
Now 25 and cancer free, Melnyk has spent more than 70 hours and $15,000 covering herself with tattooed testaments of her life. Body art has become an important part of her identity. Last Sunday, Melnyk became the first non-American to win the Miss Tattoo beauty pageant in Providence, R.I.
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