Many breast cancer survivors and patients struggle with body image after surgery. This is a completely natural feeling, yet some women feel shame or uncertainty about pursuing a reconstruction option that works for them.
Anjanette Fenner felt that uncertainty after her mastectomy. “When you go through something like cancer… you almost feel like you shouldn’t,” Fenner says. “You’re not allowed to want your body to look a certain way. You’ve been through this terrible thing, you’ve faced your mortality. How dare you care about what your breasts look like, right?”
On top of that, some survivors are overwhelmed by the options, which include forgoing reconstruction altogether (going “flat”), using a flap procedure to pull skin from other areas of the body, getting inked with or without any other reconstruction, and more.
In this video, three survivors explain why they decided to get inked, and we get to witness the progression of their new tattoos from the first stenciled outline to the finished product.
When getting inked post-mastectomy, there are three main options: aureola repigmentation, which simply adds color to already reconstructed nipples; 3D aureola repigmentation, which adds color and depth to a nipple-less breast; and decorative tattoos that can cover all or part of a survivor’s scars.
Fenner decided on aureola repigmentation. She had a flap procedure done with nipple reconstruction, and she was missing the color that would make her nipples look more realistic.
In the end, she felt rejuvenated by the whole experience. “I feel like I’ve regained a bit of my youth,” she says. “I feel like I have a little bit more excitement about just my body in general, and I had lost that. And I didn’t even realize how much of it I had lost, to be honest. Because I was so busy being grateful that I had beat cancer and was still here.”
Every woman reaches her decision differently. Some may know immediately what they want, and others may agonize over the decision for months or even years.
For Kathy Martino, she was conflicted about continuing with reconstruction after already undergoing five major surgeries. She figured she should just leave her breasts as they were at that point, but she couldn’t make peace with her decision.
After initially looking into getting an aureola tattoo, Martino found herself fascinated by the decorative ones she saw online. Then her husband, who was an artist, started creating possible designs for her that would fit across her breast shape, and things started to feel right.
She asked her doctor who they recommended for tattoos, and they led her to Friday Jones, an experienced tattoo artist at DareDevil Tattoo in NYC who is also a board member of P.Ink., an incredible program that pairs survivors with tattoo artists. We’ve written about the program several times — check out our article here to learn more about the program itself.
“My end is very focused, and it’s very much getting into their head and getting their mythology out,” Jones says. “And then once the mythology is out, I can make the design based on that; based on their identity, what they want to express. Then it’s very straightforward.”
Survivor Kristin Bersis opted for a 3D re-pigmentation of her nipples. She hadn’t had prominent nipples before her mastectomy, and so she wasn’t interested in getting surgical nipple reconstruction. After doing a lot of research, she decided on a 3D tattoo, which would allow her to get a look similar to her previous nipples.
Bersis was overwhelmed by the look of her breasts after Jones was done. Her hand flew to her mouth and she started crying.
“When I looked in the mirror I just couldn’t believe it,” Bersis says. “It was me; it looked like me from pre-mastectomy.”
All three women found the healing they needed after the experience.
“I feel complete. I really feel like that best describes it,” says Martino. “I thought I felt complete before — and, you know, I did, within myself, but I feel now that I look back on it, I feel like this was the missing piece.”
Watch the video to witness these fierce survivors going through their tattoo journeys.
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.