Although plastic surgery and breast reconstruction have come a long way toward giving women who have undergone mastectomies a realistic breast with a natural-appearing nipple, for some women, scarring from surgery may alter their body image. But a tattoo can be an empowering option for people who have had a mastectomy.
I hated looking at my mastectomy scar. But after waiting over three years after my breast cancer diagnosis, I found an artistic way to regain my self-esteem.
It was terrible to lose a breast. I knew why it had to go, but it was one of the few aspects of my body I liked, and now I felt my body had let me down. I hated looking at my scar, I hated looking in the mirror when I got out of the shower and seeing those plain mounds with no nipples.
I kept a facade on for everyone around me, but I’ve never cried so much.
To the outside world, you look normal after you get through the tissue expanders and get them replaced with implants. But every night and every morning I would be reminded by that white scar across my chest. I felt cheated by my own body.
My ‘Boobs’ were gone. No Nipples. No feeling at all. Now what? I didn’t feel ‘whole’ or ‘complete’ being left like this. I needed something positive.
I felt like less of a human, less worthy, de-sexualized. It’s hard to be breast-less in a superficial world that values looks and sexuality first. I didn’t notice until those parts of me were ripped off.
Who the hell would want to see me naked now, I asked. Self-confidence was already tough enough before my double mastectomy. I had only begun to feel comfortable in my own skin around age 30. Even still, it’s always been a challenge. Now what the hell was I going to do?
I’d seen images on the internet of tattoos, but there wasn’t much information about it. I did a lot of searching for just the right design, but nothing just blew me away.
I asked Misty Cordray, the daughter of a friend, who happens to be an artist, if she could sketch me out something. She came up with the most perfect design to give a feminine curve and cover up my scar.
I asked for a hummingbird and bird of paradise. She gave me exactly that. I then sent the photo to the tattoo artist of my choice, Derek Kastning owner of Hydra Tattoo Company in Tyler, Texas. He loved the idea, and we booked my first sitting.
I had my tattoo started on November 13th, 2019, just under three and a half years after diagnosis and mastectomy.
My second visit was November 22 at 11am. Derek worked on it for 3 hours. It was beautiful and still not finished.
My third visit was December 4 at 1:00pm. He finished it during a one and a half hour session.
The whole design took visits for a total of 5 1/2 hours of tattooing and it wasn’t painful at all! Well, other than the muscle being manhandled and all the wiping made if sore also.
I was asked not to show the finished produce until it has healed. So, when he starts the other side in January, there will be a picture along with what he has done to that point on the right foob.
I can say for sure that having some control over what that area looks like and getting to express myself artistically at the same time has been the best post-cancer gift to myself. The impact on my self-esteem was massive. Instead of hiding my scar away, I was making sure everyone saw my tattoo! I absolutely love it. I could never have believed how much better about myself it could make me feel.
Tattoos are a form of self-expression and a form of empowerment. My tattoo that reminds me to keep holding on, to keep moving forward, even when I’m tempted to give up on my life.
Asking others who have had tattoos for a recommendation is a good start. If you don’t know anyone personally, you can reach out to members of a local breast cancer support group or your cancer center.
There are plenty of tattoo artists offering breast or nipple tattoos, so doing an online search should give you a few options to choose from.
You’ll also want to do some homework to make sure you find someone you’re comfortable with and who has experience doing tattoos.
Here are some things to consider before choosing a tattoo artist:
Visit different tattoo shops, taking note of cleanliness, atmosphere, and professional and friendly staff.
Make sure that the artist and establishment have the proper licensing.
Ask if the artist practices breast or nipple tattoos outside of the shop, as some artists also work with local breast surgery centers and cosmetic surgery clinics.
If privacy is a concern, look for a shop that has a private room for tattooing or an artist that also works at a medical facility.
Ask the artist about their sterilization practices.
Ask to see a portfolio of the artist’s previous nipple tattoos, not just their artistic tattoos.