Category Archives: What Color Is Pink?

Save The Tattoos!

Many women who experience breast cancer have tattoos after treatment (as well as before).

The women whose pictures appear here have generously agreed to share their tattoos along with some words about their experience.

Links to other resources on mastectomy tattoos can be found at the end of the article.

Patricia Getchell

Chest Tattoo (Anonymous)

Patricia Getchell’s Chest Tattoo

“This tattoo predates surgery by over ten years. I lost part of the design when my breasts were removed.”

Jennifer Rigano Denbo

Jennifer Rigano Denbo

Jennifer Rigano Denbo

Jennifer Rigano Denbo

Jennifer’s Survivor Tattoo







“Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a time to remember that all cancers, including breast, are taking the lives of people you know and love everyday. All cancers need a cure….period.”

—Jennifer Rigano Denbo, “PINKtober- “Don’t be fooled by her cuteness.”

Lorrainne Mazeroll


“We are made strong by what we overcome.”







“My tattoo is one my daughter and I both got, because we are the strongest people we know!”

Pamela Estep Pierce

Pamela Estep Pierce's Angel

Angel Who Lost Her Tear







“I felt it was appropriate to get an angel tattoo on my right shoulder—a permanent “angel watching over me.” I had the tattoo artist add a small teardrop falling from her left eye to signify that I would never be the same. Amazingly, the teardrop disappeared after a few months! I know sometimes the ink fades over time, but I chose to believe this was a sign from God and the angels that I was going to be okay. And I just celebrated my anniversary of five years cancer-free!”
—Pamela Estep Pierce, 2004, from Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor’s Soul.

Update, October 2014: “It’s okay with me that she’s old and faded because that means my cancer is old and faded too…both are 15 years old on November 3rd. Yes, 15 years! She meant a lot at the time, but I’m ready to forget her…”

Pamela Estep Pierce's cross, with her daughter's

Mother and daughter cross







“A recent picture of my daughter and I celebrating my 60th birthday and my 15 years cancer free…and our prayer that she always remain without cancer.”

Looby Loo

“My passion with tattoos grew after I had my first one when I was 57! I had left an abusive husband of 38 years and finally had my freedom.”

Looby Loo's Mermaid


“I decided on a mermaid, which would represent my alter-ego who loves water and the sea in particular. Having caught polio as a baby and grown up wearing callipers I have never been elegant on land, but water is my element and it is there that I feel unbound and free!”


Looby Loo's Hummingbird


“My hummingbird is symbolic of rising above personal difficulties and hardship.”


Looby Loo's Nautilus


“The cross-section of the Nautilus on my right hand reminds me that life is meant to be lived in the present. The chambered nautilus moves forward to a larger chamber as it grows, and the previous chamber is closed off, so it can never move back, only forward towards the future. This one was drawn for me by a friend with the sea done in the style of Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa.'”


Looby Loo's Peace Heart

Peace Heart

“My rainbow coloured peace heart represents my general philosophy of tolerance, acceptance and general live-and-let-live!”


Looby Loo's Gypsy Lady

Gypsy Lady

“As for my gypsy lady, she is again a representation of my life philosophy, live, love, laugh. She is also special to me because, although you can’t see it in this picture, she is holding a sunflower and this reminds me of my late father, who was the light of my life, and the sunflower reminds me of his sunny personality. There are also bees in this tattoo, and my dear late mum loved bees – this tattoo is very special.”


Looby Loo's Hell's Fairy

Hell’s Fairy

“The Hell’s Fairy on a motorbike is how I like to see myself – a sassy attitude riding a cool bike – even if my ‘motorcycle’ is only a mobility scooter in the real world! The fairy has purple awareness ribbons incorporated in rememberance of my mum who died from pancreatic cancer (the purple ribbons are also associated with domestic violence and anti-gay bullying, two issues also close to my heart). My eldest son came up with the title ‘Hell’s Fairy’ when I got my first scooter…He said I wasn’t hard enough to be a Hell’s Angel, so fairy it had to be!”


Looby Loo's Twist of Fate

Twist of Fate

“Finally my latest tattoo was the line of script running up a scar from my very first surgery at age nine “Blame it on a simple twist of fate”…I have many other scars now, including my mastectomy one, plans are afoot for many more tattoos to cover them too!”

 Barbara White


Newgrange Tri-spiral







“I got my first tattoo at age 41, about ten days before my mastectomy. I had been conceiving of a tattoo for some time.  When I was diagnosed, in the midst of everything, I opted to up the octane and hasten this tattoo—this in spite of having been diagnosed also with Epstein-Barr virus, which resulted in severe fatigue—itself exacerbated by insomnia!  It was important to me to bring something talismanic into surgery, and since I could not wear jewelry or carry objects, it seemed smart to get that ink right away.  Sometimes people ask whether this tattoo is permanent.  I reply, “Only as permanent as I am.”  Indeed, the identification of tattoos as a fad or as “something you will regret later” has no significance to me; if I live long enough to have such a regret, I will be fortunate.

“I have been advised never again to put needles in that arm, because of the risk of lymphedema, so I like that the spiral marks the last days when I could accept a puncture there.  Andrew, the artist, wanted to touch it up afterward, and I had to say no.  That was an important reminder that my life and body, while impermanent, were permanently changed.

“Andrew described the location of the tattoo, on the inner bend of the elbow, as “the ditch”, and he told me it was very sensitive.  (I have since heard that term used by fictional IV drug users on Law and Order.)  Andrew insisted that I was very brave, though I thought he was overselling that a bit.  But I found the sensations interesting, and it helped me prepare for surgery, to have a body modification for which I was awake and could feel my body being punctured  in advance of the one for which I would be unconscious and desensitized.”


Antique Yin-Yang







“My second tattoo came a year or two later.  It is the familiar yin-yang circle, but in an antique version that people often do not recognize.  The image of the yin-yang conjures up change and interdependence.  It reminds me that neither darkness nor light is superior; both are important and valuable.  It reminds me that changes of season, of breath, of energy, of mood, of fortune, and of point of view are all temporary and shifting.  The only constant is change—something like those rays of sunlight that showed up when I took the photo.  They are gone now.

“When I was in the midst of my breast cancer adventure, I was surprised that my doctors were surprised that I opted to forgo reconstruction.  I was also surprised that they were surprised that I planned on inking a tattoo on the site of my surgery.  Neither of these choices is unusual.  There is even an organization called P.INK that matches women who have had breast cancer surgery to tattoo artists.  (And, although some think tattoos are also rare for professors and scholars, I have even found documentation on this other subculture of which I am a member.  It seems one could trace the use of ink through any number of historical threads and cultural developments.)

“To me, there was also a relationship between forgoing reconstruction and welcoming ink.  I did not want to participate in the plastic surgery industry, and the world of tattoo art was much more in line (so to speak) with my values, as well as my aesthetics.  The body modifiers were much more accepting of, well, the body, and its changes, than were doctors who build artificial breasts in the place of those we have had removed.

“I have a third tattoo, on my scar.  I identified some concepts and images and invited an artist friend to make the design.  Andrew inked this one too.  He was very thoughtful, even arranging a time when the studio would be closed and quiet.  When I got on the table, covering my remaining breast and exposing my scar, he asked, “So, is this a cancer-type thing?”—meaning my missing breast.  I said “Yeah.”  He seemed unfazed.  The sensations from the needle were quite strong.

“Although some women choose to share their chest and scar tattoos, I think of this one as private.  I am glad others are more extroverted though.”

Links to Information About Breast Cancer-Related Tattoos
[For informational purposes only; not representing or endorsed by PPATTWBTR.  Comments are from Barbara White.]

Note: the articles these links point to may include graphic images (as well as graphic images).

History of Imagery

As breast cancer treatment and the pubic conversations about it have continued, there has been much discussion about women’s appearance and about the appropriateness (or not) of showing post-surgical bodies.  The practice of post-mastectomy tattooing is woven into the struggle over the display of women’s bodies.

When I was a teenager, I would see Deena Metzger’s poster of her tattooed mastectomy scar when I went to the feminist bookstore.  This portrait seemed unusual (in many ways) back then.

Matuschka, “Beauty Out of Damage,” a photo from 1993 that was featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine, illustrating Susan Ferraro’s article “The Anguished Politics of Breast Cancer.”  The cover image and article inspired much controversy and many letters to the editor.  This response was covered by Mary Schmich in her Chicago Tribune article, “Picture Unleashes A Building Storm.”  Indibrella’s blog post, “Beauty out of Damage,” hosts Matuschka, who writes about her “Tattoectomy.”

In May, 2012, Facebook removed Joanne Jackson’s images of the site of her removed breast.  Huffington Post: Joanne Jackson, Breast Cancer Survivor, Has Mastectomy Pictures Banned From Facebook. 

My response to the above at the time: “Facebook™, is this Shot Obscene?

Later, mastectomy tattoos were found unsightly by Facebook.  Sara Gates, “Facebook Removes Photo Of Breast Cancer Survivor’s Tattoo, Users Fight Back.”  (It is said that they have loosened up since.  Indeed, one sees many mastectomy tattoos on Facebook these days.  More info welcome.)

Soon after, the New York Times made the news again by placing a large picture of a small breast scar (with tattoo above) on the front page, above the fold.  This accompanied (or was accompanied by) Roni Caryn Rabin’s article, In Israel, a Push to Screen for Cancer Gene Leaves Many Conflicted.  See also Jessica Winter’s article in Slate: No, the New York TimesDid Not Sexualize Breast Cancer.

News & Features

Diane Mapes, “Pink ink: Tattoos transform mastectomy scars into beauty.

Katherine Locke, “Women choose body art over reconstruction after cancer battle.”

‘Flat and fabulous’: Topless tattoo selfie inspires cancer survivors.”  An article in Today about Barbie Ritzco, co-founder of Flat & Fabulous.

Examples & Resources

Inked Mag, “Inspiring Mastectomy Tattoos.”

Shareen Pathak, “Want a mastectomy tattoo? There’s an app for that.”

A “breast friend” told me about a link to mastectomy tattoo ideas on Pinterest.

Personal Ink—P.INK: “Our goal is to connect breast cancer survivors with tattoo artists who can provide a form of healing that no one else can.”

Melissa A. Fabello, “4 Rules for Talking to Tattooed People Without Disrespecting Their Boundaries,” from Everyday Feminism.  [I find the tone of this article somewhat counterproductive, but its “rules” are good practices for interacting with anybody: refraining from uninvited touch and intrusive questions, and so on.  It may be of interest to the tattoo-conversation-curious.]

Culture and Scholarship

“Beauty and the Freak,” an interesting episode of CBC’s program Ideas.  It considers numerous kinds of body modification, with an unusually wide view and open attitude.

“Gender Under the Knife”: an article about Mary Bryson and Chase Joynt’s project on breast cancer surgery and gender-reassignment surgery.  Mary Bryson’s photo of her tattoo can also be found here. 

Dwight Garner’s review of Margot Mifflin’s book, Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo.

Not specifically about tattoos, but considering the intersection of breast cancer and appearance is Samantha King’s 2008 book Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthrophy.  The University of Minnesota Press’s “Q & A with Samantha King,” part of the press kit for the book, begins with a discussion of the Matuschka/New York Times controversy.  [“The images through which the disease was made visible were also transformed: Matuschka’s mutilated, though highly ‘stylized,’ chest, the result of an unnecessary mastectomy performed by an overzealous surgeon , replaced by the hypernormal femininity of Linda Evangelista’s modestly covered yet perfectly intact breasts.”  King, Samantha (2008-05-19). Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy (Kindle Locations 67-69). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.]  The increased attention to mastectomy tattoos is part of a long history of the breast cancer dialogue in the United States.

Inked Academics

Phil Ford, “The Tattoed Academic,”  in the Dial “m” for Musicology blog.

David J. Leonard  about The Inked Academic Body,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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What Color Is Your Warrior?

There is a lot of discussion about the “Breast Cancer Warrior.”  Women who have been diagnosed are often lauded for fighting a battle and for refusing to give up.  And others raise questions about this archetype or model.

There is a pink image, “Keep Calm and Fight Like a Girl”; perhaps the mid-century British provenance has something to do with the subtler shade of rose, a color I can take in without sunglasses.   Thank you!  That alone helps me to be calmer.  There is what looks like a wine glass with the slogan “Breast Cancer Warrior.”  That is interesting too. I kind of like the idea of being an oenowarrior.  (When I was auditioning oncologists, one said I should drink only on the weekends; the other reminded me of the research about a glass of wine a day being beneficial.  I liked them both, but it was the latter I hired.)  A few years back, when I totaled my Focus, so to speak, I saw this somewhat jarring image at the Ford repair shop:







There is also an endearing-looking tee-shirt that seems to have a tree branch, antlers, or a tribal tattoo image, surrounding a burgundy heart.  It is shown on a flat-chested body, identified as a men’s shirt, but I like to pretend it is a woman in the picture.

There is something intriguing, too, about tee-shirts being adopted as warrior gear—displaying, deliberately or inadvertently, the vulnerability of the body.  Unlike tough battle armor designed to protect the body, this slight piece of cotton sits lightly on the chest, tenderly covering the susceptible spot.  It signifies that this battle directed not outward, but inward—not protecting the skin from puncture, but breaking the skin to excise the offending intruder.

Certainly some breast cancer patients find these images useful, and others prefer to view ourselves in other roles.  For my part, I am simply intrigued by the this vocabulary and its accompanying imagery.  As someone who has been overly self-effacing and accommodating at times, but who has gradually learned about enlightened warriorship and practiced tai ji sword for a time, I recognize that welcoming the unwelcome can be counterproductive.  But the thought of gearing myself up for war against my own insides also feels harsh, a little too close to self-harm.  It is not easy to navigate this territory, when the offender lies within.  And it asks us to summon superhero strength when our bodies are already weakened.  Perhaps that is what is necessary.

There are other images of women warriors floating around.  I’ve witnessed some interesting discussions and debates over the costuming of female characters in fantasy literature and film, though this aspect comprises my sole contact with that material.  I’m more familiar with powerful and determined women (and men) who have advocated equality for women, for people of color, for trans individuals, for economic justice and for the eradication of sexualized violence, and other things I probably do not know to worry about yet.  While there is significant energy around these issues these days, much of it on social media, there is also a lot of resistance, even aggression, toward these efforts.  There is also denial and naiveté, which place us all in danger.  When Elliot Rodger murdered several people earlier this year, there was a reflexive script that was recited and regurgitated: “This is not about misogyny; he was mentally ill.”  But few pointed out that his pathology was shaped by damaging notions of gender, by a deadly cocktail of a gun, a mind, and a culture  wherein men are told they are entitled to women’s attentions.  The fact that men were “well represented” among the victims showed, not so much that it was men he focused on, but that the fury of a man rejected can mutate to kill men too.

Of necessity, some advocates, under siege, have adopted the role of warrior in order to persevere under such inhospitable circumstances.  My own fight, undertaken reluctantly, has concerned equity in the workplace, and I have encountered not only hostility, but outright aggression and retaliation, and perhaps—though I cannot know others’ intentions—deliberate, concerted efforts to ruin my career.  It is clear to me that I am expected to accept second-class status, to undermine my, um, prowess—which, I daresay, is considerable—in order to soothe others’ egos.  (Sadly, they have chosen to battle my excellence, even though they themselves could benefit from my wisdom and expertise.  What abundance of antipathy must one nurse to get to the point of harming another who, if unimpeded, could benefit oneself?  I suspect it weighs heavily.) I have learned much and have gradually learned to accept the unfortunate reality that I too must embrace the role of warrior.  I have fashioned myself as a warrior for peace, but, also sadly, I have received  more aggression, exclusion, and intimidation, and I have witnessed some outlandish, circus-like antics in the process.  Of course, I am not immune to going simian myself when under pressure.

So, as I did my laundry yesterday, I was dreaming: what if women were raised to be, and celebrated for, standing in our integrity, not just just in the face of life-threatening illness, but in the face of social injustice, gender discrimination, and economic inequity?  What if something other than our ability to withstand suffering were used to sell bagels, tissues, and beer?  What if we were acclaimed for demanding respectful treatment, which in turn would allow us to collaborate more fully in cultivating better circumstances for all?  Can you imagine a world wherein we would see Ford™ trucks sprouting ribbons supporting Rehtaeh Parsons’s fight against bullying?  And decrying those who violated her and even publicized their acts?  Can you imagine a day when Chelsea Manning’s coming out about gender transitioning is viewed with more compassion than ridicule?  Where I am praised for my wisdom and integrity, for making my workplace better for all, rather than ostracized, bullied, and perhaps forced out?

There is evidence of such support, but the boos and hisses continue to drown out the appreciation and gratitude.

Inspired by taiji, I prefer to ward off my cancer gently, and with respect.  And I support those who choose to do battle instead.  But when I consider how the passion for the pink soldier sits alongside the denigration of other women warriors, I grieve that women who serve in the US military cannot trust that they will remain safe from attack perpetrated by their fellow soldiers.  How can it be that those they are trained to fight with choose instead to fight against them, to humiliate, intimidate,  violate and degrade?  How can they, in a manner akin to that of my non-military colleagues, treat women as the enemy?  I cannot but wonder if the appeal of the breast-cancer warrior model—often, literally, a model—lies in part in its giving license to fight against women’s bodies rather than to honor these same women’s sovereignty over those same bodies.  Cell mutation intrudes into an often-sexualized part of the body, and so do human assailants.

Are women who wear this shirt cheered on as energetically as those who wear pink warrior princess garb?  I have one of these; I’ll report back.  (I chose the color deliberately.)


From look







I dream a world where we women who fight for ourselves, for others, and who demand that our value be recognized and honored, are met with more applause than recrimination and ridicule.  Whatever color we choose for our warrior costumes, whatever adversary we confront, we are all fighting for our lives.

To close, bell hooks’s insights on domestic violence:

“If you go door to door in our nation and talk to citizens about domestic violence, almost everyone will insist that they do not support male violence against women, that they believe it to be morally and ethically wrong. However, if you then explain that we can only end male violence against women by challenging patriarchy, and that means no longer accepting the notion that men should have more rights and privileges than women because of biological differences or that men should have the power to rule over women, that is when the agreement stops. There is a gap between the values they claim to hold and their willingness to do the work of connecting thought and action, theory and practice to realize these values and thus create a more just society.”
—bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions (via thechocolatebrigade)

—Posted by Rosie Untied

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All Rosé Today—Or, Men in P$#k

Photo by Matt, via Flickr Used with permission. Click for original.

Photo by Matt, via Flickr
Used with permission.
Click for original.

In search of a mature red characterized by phenomenal richness and incredible longevity,  I strode through the door, startled by an ocean, not of red, but of rosé.  Every single sales consultant in a pale shirt, clashing loudly with the red color scheme of the store.  At the customer service desk was a huddle of three managers, all apink.  It was too much to digest! In order to continue on my quest, I was obliged to don my sunglasses.

I wondered at the mass paling of the usual uniforms: they’re a bright cherry, with a notable black pepper finish.  Where had they gone?  Did someone mismanage the laundry?  Could they be attempting to “reclaim the rosé?”  I have heard that there is a campaign afoot to rescue the poor blush wine, “derided by winemakers, p***ed on by wine judges, revered by the public.”  And at last, it donned on me: October.

I summoned the courage to approach the ever-helpful Brandon, who once congratulated me on my choice of an economical shiraz for mulling, and I asked whether he might like some customer input.  We had a friendly exchange; I explained that I did not want him to be offended, but that some of us who have experienced breast cancer find the staining of October troubling.  “I know it’s for a good reason, and I know you’ll continue, but the store has no way of knowing some of us have misgivings unless we tell you.”  He was receptive and said he would pass on my comment.  Then we compared notes on the stunning Gigondas.  Bold, explosive, stunningly evocative garrigues flavors careen from the glass, blaring their stamp of origin like a neon sign. These are old-styled, powerful wines of enormous fruit amplitude and irresistible personality.  Plus there is the longevity!  All the more poignant in the face of rose-colored t-shirts.

Heartened by Brandon’s good will—and blushing, for I am shy—I sauntered in search of an intense, ruby rosso ready to be released—after all, life is short, or can be—and found one promising classic aromas of blackberry and raspberry, well integrated with notes of vanilla and tobacco. And more, the structure was guaranteed to be ample, very concentrated and harmonious, supported by a good acidity.  How I would love to see acid and harmony support one another more often!

Making my way to exchange lucre for terroir, I mused to myself, “I sense just a hint of strawberries nestled amongst what could almost be virginal yeast development. I can almost smell the acid. This is following nicely into the very fresh and acid driven palate, again the odd nuance of musk stick and strawberry in amongst all that acidity, with just a tinge of greenness on the back palate.”  I dug in my wallet for a few bills.

Looking around again, I saw that, indeed, the gentlemen (yes, they were all gentlemen, to a one) looked serene and tender in their rose-colored shirts.  To my surprise, I started to wish they’d discard the usual red shirts and wear these all year—or least bring them back for Gentle Men’s Month?

Will the rosé’s subtle finish be persistent?  Or will it perish?

Only time will tell.

—Rosie Untied


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The Legendary Hope Pumpkin

“It’s the P$#k Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”
Click here for full-color version.  (Currently sold out.)
Three hours, ten minutes until October . . .

Pink Pumpkin—Grey

The Legendary Hope Pumpkin

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Katie Rose Guest Pryal on “Inspiration Porn”

William Murphy, Setanta – The Story via Flickr

William Murphy,
Setanta – The Story
via Flickr


From Katie Rose Guest Pryal’s September 25 post in her Chronicle Vitae series on psychiatric disability:

People who call you brave for disclosing a disability often feel “inspired” by you as well. Like this: “Your bravery in sharing your psychiatric disability with the world is so inspiring.” (That’s not an actual quotation from a message I received. Not exactly.) “Brave” plus “Inspiration” is a double-whammy of terrible. As the brilliant Stella Young has so nicely put it, “We’re not here for your inspiration.”

See more of Katie Rose Pryal’s “I’m Not Brave.”


How does the notion of “bravery” affect the dialogue surrounding breast cancer? Here is one example:

And a Brave Day™ Pink §emonade Project


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Barbara Brown Taylor on Darkness

I have just listened to Mary Hynes’s interview with Barbara Brown Taylor, “Let There Be Dark,” on  CBC radio’s fine program Tapestry.  Highly recommended.  She talks about the pressure she felt as a preacher to be unfailingly sunny and describes her own religious practice as “lunar,” as distinguished from the “solar” tendencies of many communities.  This syncs up with my feelings about pink, about the efforts to dress up a painful experience with brightness. Any encounter with a kindred spirit who does not demand constant cheeriness makes me—cheery.  I’m still not pink though.

This is an excerpt from Barbara Brown Taylor’s “In Praise of Darkness,” in Time Magazine.  (It is an excerpt from her book “Learning to Walk in the Dark.”)

 . . . a kind of spirituality that deals with darkness by denying its existence or at least depriving it of any meaningful attention. I call it “full solar spirituality,” since it focuses on staying in the light of God around the clock, both absorbing and reflecting the sunny side of faith. You can usually recognize a full solar church by its emphasis on the benefits of faith, which include a sure sense of God’s presence, certainty of belief, divine guidance in all things, and reliable answers to prayer. Members strive to be positive in attitude, firm in conviction, helpful in relationship, and unwavering in faith. This sounds like heaven on earth. Who would not like to dwell in God’s light 24/7?

If you have ever belonged to such a community, however, you may have discovered that the trouble starts when darkness falls on your life, which can happen in any number of unsurprising ways: you lose your job, your marriage falls apart, your child acts out in some attention-getting way, you pray hard for something that does not happen, you begin to doubt some of the things you have been taught about what the Bible says. The first time you speak of these things in a full solar church, you can usually get a hearing. Continue to speak of them and you may be reminded that God will not let you be tested beyond your strength. All that is required of you is to have faith. If you still do not get the message, sooner or later it will be made explicit for you: the darkness is your own fault, because you do not have enough faith.

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