How This Tattoo Artist Is Helping Breast Cancer Survivors Heal
How did you get started as a tattoo artist, and what led to your work in mastectomy tattooing?
I got my first tattoo when I was a freshman in art school and fell in love with them. I started formally practicing in 2000, here in Richmond, Virginia. But the mastectomy tattooing actually didn't come about until 2010, when I was cold-called by a local breast cancer survivor. She had a single-side mastectomy—and reconstruction with a breast implant but no nipple reconstruction. By the time she contacted me, I had been tattooing for a decade. I had a focus on anatomy and fine art oil painting in art college. And I just thought it was going to be a one-time opportunity to combine both of the two skills.
And now, it's one of your specialties. What do you enjoy most about these tattoos?
Being able to help others with art has always been something I'm super grateful for. And then to be able to help someone who's recovering from dealing with cancer—really, in my mind, there are not a lot of things that could top that. It's been educational in a way I couldn't imagine—seeing all the different levels of strength that people can have. So yes, it's definitely fulfilling. But I'm really there to do it for the ladies.
Why did you start the Pink Ink Fund?
I assumed there were women who would probably have financial hurdles if they wanted to go outside of their doctor's office to get this kind of work done. So after the first nipple tattoo, I started this small private fund, and it quickly gained speed. Now it's a nonprofit where people can apply for a grant through their social worker for nipple repigmentation or decorative tattooing. The main focus is to really get out there to the communities that are most socioeconomically challenged, those who are at the poverty line or below it.
What have your clients said after getting tattooed?
Some have come back and let me know that they feel whole again, feeling like they can move forward and get their lives back. And a lot of women feel like they're reclaiming their body and their femininity. So I really enjoy that step—giving power back to the person after cancer has taken it away.
This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!
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