Mastectomy Ink

I am drafting this on a flight back to Palm Beach from San Diego, and it was the *hardest* part of my journey.  My husband and I wanted to be private about this, but I think we both are feeling okay with me sharing it now.

My first time back in CA in 23 years!

For the past couple months, I’ve been feeling really depressed about my appearance, more than usual.  I tried a lot of things to help ease my frustration and anxiety from cancer’s physical impacts, but nothing seemed to work.  Then a few weeks ago, I watched a video on Facebook that showcased women getting tattoos to cover their mastectomy scars.  It was then that I decided a mastectomy tattoo was right for me.  I thought if I didn’t have to look at the scars and discoloration, I could finally move on with my “new normal” life.

Gary and I did A LOT of research before we decided to take this leap of faith.  We looked at artists from all over the country, and even abroad.  In my opinion, not all tattoo artists are mastectomy tattoo artists.  I believe it takes a special, experienced tattoo artist to take on something as monumental as this.  I was really touched by Shane Wallin’s work and what people said about him.  Shane, and his wife Toni, own Garnet Tattoo in San Diego and Twilight Tattoo in Minneapolis.

One night at dinner, I turned to Gary and said, “This is our guy.”  He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Okay, well if that’s our guy, then that’s our guy…book the tickets.”  I called Shane’s wife and she squeezed me into his very tight schedule.  At his other shop in Minneapolis, there is a year and a half wait.  Why so long?  Because he is that freaking good…

Shane is not just in the tattoo business, he’s in the business of changing lives – and he changed mine forever.  In one, 9-hour grueling session (that Gary almost stopped four times), Shane made me pretty again and restored my self-confidence in my body image.  I wanted to tap out six hours into it, but I kept going for Gary.  He’s my rock, and at the moment, I’m one of Shane’s favorite pieces of work.

Cancer and chemotherapy/radiation had taken so much from me, and now it was this excruciating pain all over again (but far worse than what I have ever felt).  I have plenty of tattoos; however, this was by far the most painful.  At times, Gary had to tightly hold my hand and wipe the tears from my face, but Shane kept going as fast as he could.  I’m not ashamed to say I threw up at the end, something I haven’t done with any other tattoo.

Aside from his normal appointments, Shane participates in the annual “P.Ink Day”.  P.Ink is an organization that gets tattoo artists and cancer patients/survivors together for free tattooing.  They typically help 50 people on that day all over the country.  P.Ink even has an app where you can try on different tattoos, called Inkspiration, either using a photo of yourself or a silhouette in various scar configurations.  The app is what got me really inspired because it made me see how my VERY asymmetrical breasts could be made symmetrical again.  From my own experience, I don’t see someone so disfigured anymore when I look in the mirror: I see a work of art.

The Inkspiration App for iPhone

If you want to do this, I have some tips.  I don’t care how many tattoos you have already – shush yourself and listen up.  This was not like ANY tattoo I have had before.  Tattooing over my scars was the WORST, and that’s ironic and poetic all at the same time.  I would do it all over again (but don’t tell Gary or Shane I said that) because I am so damn happy with the results.

  • It’s not a bad idea to see your doctor, especially your reconstructive surgeon, before you book your appointment or even make a final decision. If it’s possible that you’re not a candidate for a mastectomy tattoo, for whatever reason, you don’t want to get your hopes up ahead of time.  If you’re not fully in remission, like me, you definitely need to see your doctor.
  • Get a good night’s sleep and lay off the booze the night before (and day of). Alcohol will make you bleed more, and make it hurt more.  Don’t listen to the drunken sailor myths.
  • Apply a generous amount of lidocaine where you’re being tattooed, and cover yourself in Saran Wrap, one hour prior to your appointment. If you choose Shane as your artist, Toni will remind you to do this.  Actually, Toni is pretty fantastic at reminding you of everything you need to do – down to what you should eat the day of.  I can tell you this: lidocaine is NOT your friend once the tattoo is in full swing and your skin is “open”, but I think it helped when we got started.
  • Wrap yourself in Saran Wrap for the flight home. If you get it done local, you won’t have this problem.  If you go to Shane, all your supplies can be found at CVS close to his San Diego shop, including your “after tattoo” wine.
  • Don’t go alone. It’s bad enough you were alone in an operating room when you got those scars, and woke up to a friendly nurse offering you crackers.  Oh, and don’t take your mother…too much sympathy is never a good thing.  My mom explicitly told me she would have not been able to handle it.
  • Book way in advance and schedule several sessions, if you’re getting a big piece. You’re not going to be able to pop in the day after you decide you want to do this.  The tattoo “virgins” need several sessions, for sure.  I can’t imagine someone, who has never had one before, doing everything in one session.  If you’re just doing a 3-D nipple, you should only need one session.
  • Do your research to find an artist, especially if you never had a tattoo. As I stated before, Shane’s work spoke to me and that’s why I chose him.  Look at the work of different tattoo artists, especially in the P.Ink network (link is below).  They specialize in dealing with the emotional and physical needs of breast cancer survivors and current patients.
  • Choose something that is uniquely you, and be honest. Shane and I had a consult the day before to discuss what I wanted.  It’s the first time I ever met him in person, so I knew I had to be very honest.  I told him what I did and did not like.  I ended up with exactly what I asked for because Shane and I communicated openly.  If you have something in mind, pictures are very helpful to your artist so don’t feel like you’re intruding on their artistic license by bringing them.

For the sake of my job, and out of respect for the privacy of my family, I won’t be posting pictures of my mastectomy tattoo.  However, you can see examples of Shane’s transformative work at his websites:
http://www.mastectomy.ink
http://www.garnettattoo.com
Follow on Instagram @shanewallintattoo and @mastectomytattoo

Here are some really good articles that talk about Shane’s work:
http://www.inkedmag.com/breast-cancer-mastectomy-tattoo/
https://mic.com/articles/126810/these-are-the-artists-empowering-breast-cancer-survivors-with-beautiful-tattoos#.W38J58gCO
http://circa.com/scitech/health/shane-wallin-tattoos-nipples-on-breast-cancer-survivors-who-have-had-a-mastetomy

To get involved with P.Ink or make a donation to support “P.Ink Day”:
http://p-ink.org

Inkspiration is available in the Apple App Store.  I don’t believe there is a version for Android yet.

18 Comments

  1. Kristin

    Great blog Dana. You are the toughest woman I know. If yiu said it hurts, most people won’t be able to handle it. So glad you got the results you were hoping for! Xo Kikii

    Reply
    1. dana (Post author)

      It was painful, but it depends on what you get. I am a “go big or go home” kind of gal.

      Reply
      1. Mom

        You’re an amazing woman and we’re very proud parents…. it makes us feel good to know that you inspire so many women out there ….❤️…. what you’ve gone through in the last two years would have made many give up and break down …. you’ve never given up on anything your whole life…. I’m so grateful you shared this with others…. !! And a Great Big thank you to our Son in law Gary for his strength to go through this with you… we know it wasn’t easy…. we love both of you so very much …. ❤️💋😘…. The 🐣And the 🐞 ….are truly an amazing and loving couple !!! Love you, Pops & Mom xoxo

        Reply
        1. dana (Post author)

          This is being met with such great reception! I’m SO glad I shared my story of what the four of us did in Pacific Beach one day/evening. Shane really is an incredible artist, and I have an AWESOME support system. Love you both!

          Reply
  2. Francine

    You constantly touch me on how open you are!! I have told several friends and family members who are going through this to read your blog. I really feel it is so helpful to know you are not alone. I sure hope they are reading! You are amazing!!!!

    Reply
    1. dana (Post author)

      I appreciate that! Thank you for the kind words. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Stacey

    Great blog as usual 😘

    Reply
    1. dana (Post author)

      Thank you!

      Reply
  4. Buzzard

    DANA, I have always been in your corner on anything that you do and will always have your back even though you have a good man now by your side Love you too the moon and back your brother Buzzard

    Reply
    1. dana (Post author)

      I know you have and I love you too! xoxoxo

      Reply
  5. Alexis

    Dana, I haven’t seen nor spoken to you in many years. I’ve thought of you and Carla often over the years; you were both so important to me during our childhood. I’m honored to have reconnected with you through the magic of social media–the amazing human you are. Your honesty and rawness sometimes brings me to tears. The manner in which you care for your loved ones and the compassion you display by consistently striving to better the lives of those less fortunate are beyond admirable. I hope someday I can get to spend time with “Dana the adult,” my incredibly fearless, beautiful-souled cousin. XOXO

    Reply
    1. dana (Post author)

      I really appreciate the kind words! You’ll get to see me this summer (hopefully). I love helping people and raising awareness about issues that are close to me.

      Reply
  6. Carolyn

    Awesome blog….you never cease to amaze me! Nothing in this world can ever stop you. You have proven that. Proud to call you my friend. Oxox

    Reply
    1. dana (Post author)

      Thank you! Love you! Xoxox

      Reply
  7. Sue Sims

    Dana it took me about 15 minutes after reading your blog to stop crying and compose myself where I could leave a comment. Every time i read something from you i am truly moved. You are so incredibly brave and i cant even imagine the pain you’ve gone thru. (not just from getting the tattoo) You are a beautiful person inside and out and I believe your words will be an inspiration to others. I am truly proud to know you and call you my friend.

    Reply
    1. dana (Post author)

      I so appreciate having you in my life. It makes the world a better place! I cry a lot too when I read these things….my story…Layla’s story… Its all humbling and moving… Love you! Xoxox

      Reply
  8. Lisa Harris

    I can only reiterate what others have said about your strength and perseverance. I tell people that you are one of the toughest chicks I know!
    Thank you for always sharing very personal issues with others and letting them know they aren’t alone nor are their emotions “not normal”. Blessings to you as you continue your journey!

    Reply
    1. dana (Post author)

      Thank you so much! It’s been an awesome journey so far…and it continues… 😉

      Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *