A picture is worth a thousand words, but this photo of breast cancer survivor Barbie Ritzco is priceless. While all stories of cancer survival are inspiring, Ritzco's is particularly extraordinary, which is why it's not surprising the empowering selfie has recently gone viral.
This is not the portrait of someone who has been beaten. This is the portrait of a woman proudly baring a chest scarred by a double mastectomy and now adorned with an artistic tattoo. This is the portrait of an immensely courageous woman proving once and for all that flat really can be fabulous.
Image Credit: Flat and Fabulous Facebook Page
A member of the Marine Corps for 20 years, Ritzco first detected a lump in her breast as she was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Unwilling to let down her fellow Marines, she went anyways, telling the SCAR Project, for which she posed topless, "I wasn't willing to accept the lump in my left breast that became obviously larger to me over the weeks that quickly turned into months. I sacrificed my own health and life as long as I could in order to stay and deploy with my unit. We had prepared and trained tirelessly for months and worked ridiculously long hours."
Following her diagnosis, which she received while in Afghanistan, Ritzco underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and a bilateral mastectomy. But that didn't stop her from running the Marine Corps marathon, earning the USAA's Athletic Inspiration Award in the process. An avid athlete, Ritzco even ran the Marine Corps marathon during radiation, more than earning her Facebook moniker, Marathon Barbie.
The American Cancer Society estimates that "232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women" this year, making it the most common cancer for women, excluding skin cancers. In the United States, there are 2.8 million breast cancer survivors.
Unfortunately, Ritzco's cancer is aggressive and she has since suffered a recurrence. In an effort to galvanize well-wishes and prayers, Ritzco's friend Sara posted an update about her condition on Aug. 15, along with the photo of Barbie revealing her tattooed chest, to the Flat and Fabulous Facebook page, a group Ritzco had cofounded.
Ritzco designed the striking body art last year, joining a larger trend among breast cancer survivors, many of whom have gone to great creative lengths to turn their bodies into meaningful canvases. "She wanted it to look like her chest was bursting open," Sara told Mic. "Ugly on the outside, beautiful on the inside." Barto's desire that her friend's selfie go viral was born out of Ritzco's own desire to use her tattoo to help inspire other survivors. For better or for worse, breasts are still intrinsically tied to femininity and womanhood.
When Barto was searching for a photo to share, Ritzco's wish made the decision that much easier. "The only thing that made sense was to give her this gift," Barto told Mic. "I just imagined all the well-wishes, the good vibes, positive energy and the inspiration people would feel as they viewed her photo — those beautiful thoughts circling her in the hospital room and letting her know how much she is loved and how much she has changed our world."
With the help of Facebook shares, blog posts and media coverage, it seems Barbie Ritzco's story — and image — may indeed be circling the globe, as well it should be. Here, truly, is one selfie you don't have to feel guilty about sharing.