For many, reconstruction after a mastectomy starts the process of regaining ownership over your body. You make the choice for reconstruction. You decide how you will face your future. Areola or nipple tattoos are basically the cherry on top of that sundae. It’s the final touches to regain the femininity, and the normalcy you may have lost.
Amy Black, a tattoo artist who founded the Pink Ink Fund, has been tattooing for over 15 years, and currently has a private tattoo studio in Richmond, Virginia. Her initial involvement with cancer patients came about quite organically when a women called her looking for help.
Black explains the only technique to recreate the natural coloring is through tattooing. She is able to offer many variations of coloring depending on the woman’s skin tone, and can create the illusion of realistic nipples and areola textures, shapes and sizes with tattooing.
Her organization, Pink Ink Fund, offers financial support to women in need of post mastectomy reconstructive, restorative, and recovery tattooing. As a nonprofit organization, Pink Ink Fund offers grants to women who are unable to pay for the breast, nipple and areola reconstructive tattooing following mastectomy surgery and gives them an opportunity that would be otherwise financially out of reach.
Black Talks Tats for TaTas
We asked Black a few questions about her organization, and about nipple and areola tattooing.
I’m Taking Charge: How does a woman qualify for a grant?
Black: What we do is ask applicants to send us proof of denial from their insurance company for what they want to get done. We need to see a little bit of their financials, then we review their request with some of our board members, and once they’re approved, we offer a one-time $250 grant that goes to the client, who can use it with any artist they choose.
I’m Taking Charge: How do you raise money for Pink Ink Fund?
Black: From donations and word of mouth. To date we have raised over $19,000. We became a nonprofit last fall, and we’re small. We don’t do a lot of advertising. It’s a lot of grassroots.
Black: I think the number might be on the low side, because of the issues of dealing with the mastectomies, implants, and scar tissue. I don’t know an exact number, but I have seen an increase over the past few years, which is great, because it gives people more options.
I’m Taking Charge: Are surgeons the ones who usually complete nipple tattoos for breast cancer patients?
Black: Surgeons are trained to do nipple tattoos in most practices. Also technician and nurses can be trained as well. It was mostly medical providers who were doing that service, and they had a completely different approach, technique and process.
I’m Taking Charge: When you started were there many tattoo artists who did areola or nipple tattoos?
Black: There were probably a few tattoo artists who did this kind of nipple tattooing, but not many. The only one who was public about it was Vinnie Myers in Baltimore. I’m not sure how long he’s been working with John Hopkins.
I’m Taking Charge: Is there a difference in areola or nipple tattoos done by a surgeon or those done by an actual tattoo artist like yourself?
Black: Doctors refer to what they do as more medical tattooing. I have meet many cancer survivors who are totally happy with the nipple tattoos their doctors and nurses have done, and that’s what matters first.
I’m Taking Charge: How long do areola or nipple tattoos last?
Black: I tell all my clients that tattoo pigments fade naturally over the duration of the tattoo. There is always a chance they will need a maintenance touch up session at some point. That will be different per client and skin type.
I’m Taking Charge: One of the other breast tattoos you show on your site was called the Cherry Blossom Project.
Black: This is a woman I tattooed a bunch of cherry blossoms over her chest. She had deep scars that weren’t going to flatten out on both breasts that were reconstructed. Doing this type of tattoo has become more popular over this year. It’s a great option, because there are so many scar lines leftover post surgery.
I’m Taking Charge: Psychologically how important are areola and nipple tattoos?
Black: I think you have to step back a bit and remember all the traumas these women have already gone through with the initial mastectomy. They are dealing with losing their breast or both breasts and the massive scarring. It’s not like they’re getting a regular boob job. It looks radically different. So, these women are already not looking like they did before, and they are dealing with that, and I want them to look as natural as possible.
More information on the Pink Ink Fund or to apply for a grant click here.