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Breast Cancer Survival in Living Color

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Even though tattoos have become widely accepted in today’s world, it’s a good bet that many women would still never consider sporting a patch of permanent ink on their skin.

But for some breast cancer patients, there might be a reason to think twice about that.

An article earlier this month in the online version of the Syracuse Post Standard highlighted the work of Kim Leach. An ex-nurse turned tattoo artist, Kim devotes one day each month to using her talents to benefit mastectomy patients. She applies—literally—her art to cover the scars of cancer surgery and breast reconstruction.

Kim obviously enjoys the work tremendously. In the online article, she was quoted observing that getting a tattoo is a powerful statement for her clients. She said, “It's an act with deep meaning, about reclaiming their identity as a woman. I give them that last kick of empowerment over breast cancer."

Indeed, while part of the reason some cancer patients choose tattoos is to cover up reminders of their ordeal, it’s striking just how much meaning is contained in the designs the women develop with Kim’s help. One includes yellow daffodils, the icon of an American Cancer Society fundraiser. Many include pink ribbons, symbolizing breast cancer.

Other tattoo artists across the nation get involved in helping breast cancer patients feel in more control of their post-treatment looks. Some specialize in recreating nipples and areolas by tattooing reconstructed breasts. Dragonfly Ink Custom Tattoo Studio, in San Francisco, is one such shop. Sasha Merritt, the artist, even offered a free areola tattooing clinic in October, breast cancer awareness month, “in honor of surviving and thriving.”

When planning a tattoo, it pays to conduct some research and develop the plan carefully. You’ll need to consider the basic questions anyone would face, such as how to choose a good artist, making sure the design you have in mind can be transformed effectively into a tattoo and planning the timing so you’ll be able to heal properly (away from the sun, swimming pools and so on).

But there are some additional things to keep in mind if you plan to cover a scar with body ink.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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