It has been almost a month since I walked into Garnet Tattoo, and met Shane and Toni Wallin for the very first time. A lot of things have changed for me, and I don’t mean just physically…mentally, I am a different person. When I woke up the next morning after my tattoo session, I shuffled to the bathroom in our hotel room and looked in the mirror. I still had the Saran Wrap on, but now it was time to take a shower and clean it up. Gary helped me peel away the wrap, and once he did, I was in complete awe of what I looked like now. This was permanent…this was me…this was part of my new normal…
When we got to the airport to return home, I had a spring in my step and carried myself differently, with my shoulders erect and my head held high. Although no one could see the work I had done, I felt it and had a renewed sense of confidence in knowing that something was different. Gary tried to help me with my purse, cautioning that I shouldn’t carry anything on my shoulders. He was worried it would rub on the Saran Wrap that lay beneath my loose, button down blouse. But I was defiant as a toddler being told not to do something, and part of old Dana – the aggressive “I lived through 8 years in the military, cancers, and countless other things” woman – emerged, and proclaimed I did not need any assistance. Admittedly, I was sore as hell, especially underneath my breasts and on my ribs.
When I arrived home, I was greeted by my very emotional parents and my mother was stunned when I took off my shirt. “You’re absolutely beautiful, Dana”, she muttered as she tried to fight back the tears. She then remarked I could probably walk around topless and no one would even know the difference. The key difference was that none of us – not Gary, my mother, and most importantly, ME – even looked for or thought about nipples. This is what I wanted…this is what it made it all worth it… I finally didn’t care that I didn’t have nipples and I believed I was beautiful. I had no idea how much nipples contributed to my perception of my own femininity, until they were gone. And now, I didn’t care that mine were never coming back.
I spent a lot of time in the first two weeks examining myself in the mirror (like several times a day). I turned slightly to each side and thought, No scars! No discoloration from the radiation!. And that’s when I would start sobbing, but it wasn’t the same sobbing I did when I initially lost my breasts. It was a sobbing of happiness…that my body had been transformed into a work of art and it was truly humbling. Gary looks at me differently now, and for a few weeks, he also had to process the change that had taken place. It wasn’t a bad thing at all; it was just that things were different now. I can see he still thinks about it when he glances at me while I’m getting dressed; however, it is not a look of pain – it is a look of relief and happiness.
Most people have the same reaction when I show them the work I had done. When I first remove my shirt, their eyes get big and their mouths open wide, with visible signs of shock. I have seen this same reaction, when the horizontal scars and discoloration on my chest were so pronounced, after my surgery. However, the look on their faces now no longer contains pity…it is more of a “wow factor” followed by a gigantic smile. My reconstructive surgeon? Well, he was absolutely floored and immediately took pics to send to my mastectomy breast surgeon. He said he had never seen anything quite like it, in person.
If you decide to do this, you are going to change as well. You are going to know something is different and you are not exactly the same person. I feel like I reclaimed a part of myself that I never thought I would get back. If you have undergone a mastectomy and do not want to see those scars every day, I would encourage you to consider a mastectomy tattoo. It totally changed my thoughts about myself, my confidence level, and restored a little more normalcy to my new normal. So before I close this out, I have some advice (as usual)…
- Use Aquafor for the first 4-5 days afterwards. Don’t slather it on; just rub in a thin coat several times a day. This is the first tattoo that I have not had any scabbing, even though there was quite a bit of blood during the tattoo.
- Wash and pat it dry a few times a day using lint-free paper towels. The balls of skin you see coming off do not mean your ink is falling out. Just like any wound, you need to keep it clean. I used the blue liquid Dial soap to clean mine. DO NOT scrub it!
- Use Gold Bond Unscented Lotion for 2-4 weeks after you are done with the Aquafor. Believe it or not, this is the quickest healing tattoo I have ever had. At the start of the third post-tattoo week, everything skin-wise was starting to go back to normal.
- You are going to be sore. I was sore for about two weeks, and I’m sure this is normal, given the tattoo coverage and where I had the work done.
For more information about my experience and Shane Wallin’s transformative mastectomy tattoo work, read about it here: Mastectomy Ink. Shane and I became very close, and we still keep in touch. I can’t thank him enough for what he has done for Gary and I. Shane, Toni, Gary, and I will always be friends – and we will never forget that fateful night on Garnet Avenue in San Diego, CA, when I refused give up…