On April 16, 2020, as the world was starting a battle against the COVID pandemic, I received news I would be starting a battle of my own. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer – and so my journey began.
A silver lining of the pandemic was the cancellation of all elective medical procedures, which meant I was assigned a team of oncologists and surgeons and with unprecedented availability, my treatment moved fast.
The plan was to have a chemo-port placed just weeks after my diagnosis and testing, and six days later begin with six rounds of a combination chemotherapy called TCHP, followed by 14 rounds of HP/Kadcyla.
I made the decision to undergo a bilateral (double) mastectomy due to a high risk of recurrence with my specific diagnosis. I did, however, opt for nipple-sparing surgery, hoping to maintain as much of my self-image as possible. This surgery was not without its own risks and unfortunately due to skin necrosis, I had to go under the knife a second time – less than three weeks later – to have my nipples removed as well.
In February 2021, I had healed enough to begin the first part of breast reconstruction. The surgery went well, but looking in the mirror I still felt incomplete. Three months after that surgery was the final phase of reconstruction for me, when I chose to have 3D “nipples” tattooed to complete the look I wanted. For my artist, I chose a woman who is a breast cancer survivor herself.
I had a vision to start Ink 4 Pink, a nonprofit organization, after seeing a post on my tattoo artist’s Facebook page giving a shout out to someone who donated to cover the cost of nipple tattoos for a breast cancer survivor who couldn’t afford it. I didn’t know that medically this was considered a cosmetic procedure and generally not covered by insurance. I had a dream that night where I started a fund to help people with what is hopefully the end of their battle. The next day I did a little bit of research, spoke with a few close friends and Ink 4 Pink began to form.
Our mission is to help breast cancer survivors who have undergone mastectomies or lumpectomies feel back at home in their bodies. The war against breast cancer has very serious physical and mental ramifications for patients, and many breast cancer survivors struggle with the loss of self-identity and the feeling of incompleteness after a mastectomy. Every day survivors are confronted with the fact that their nipples are missing, replaced with large scars.
Through my treatment, I learned that not everyone’s journey can be completed the way they would have wanted. I want to be able to do something about that. Breast tattooing is often not covered by insurance. Whether that includes tattooing of a nipple or something unique, not everyone can afford it, and I want to help a survivor feel complete.
Statements and opinions expressed are that of the individual and do not express the views or opinions of Susan G. Komen. This information is being provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Persons with breast cancer should consult their healthcare provider with specific questions or concerns about their treatment.