NEW ORLEANS – Ten breast cancer survivors traveled from all over the Gulf South to be teamed up with tattoo artists Monday.
They were looking for something special they couldn’t get walking into any tattoo shop; they wanted their mastectomy scars covered with ink.
“I just didn’t want to look at the scars anymore,” said Darlene Winston, a cancer survivor who has a double mastectomy. “I don’t typically look at myself in the mirror. It’s a reminder of a hard time.”
Winston had her mastectomy in 2010. After a year of chemotherapy and radiation, doctors found a tumor in her neck.
“So they had to take that out, and then nine days later I had a heart attack,” she recalled.
Soon after, Winston's husband suddenly died.
“It’s been a tough road, and I really think that I deserve this,” she said. “I’ve lost so much with my husband and my breasts.”
The event was the first time P-INK.org, a nationwide charity whose mission is to pair breast cancer survivors with talented tattoo artists, held an event in New Orleans. Two shops, Electric Ladyland and Downtown Tattoos, opened their doors to survivors only so that participants would feel comfortable.
P-INK Organization looks at the background of the survivor and the artist, to make sure they’re a match. Some tattoo artists have never covered up a scar, and for survivors, it’s hard to judge work from an artist’s portfolio because the pictures and skin are so perfect.
“These women have a hard time walking into a tattoo shop,” said Friday Jones with P-ink. “They talk to the wrong guy and they get sent out the door, and they never start again. So it’s very important for us to vet these tattoo artists, these tattoos shops that target these women, these survivors, and provide them a safe place to grow and move on to the next part of their lives.”
For some of the artists, it was their first time doing mastectomy tattoos.
“It was a little bit different than a normal tattoo,” said Bobby Caruso, a participating artist. “I put a little more prep in my brain last night and this morning. I don’t really have anybody in my family that I’ve lost to cancer, but it still was emotional. I was still excited to do something like that.”
The moment of truth for the woman came when they walked up to the mirror, facing something other than scars. Some of them smiled, most of them cried, but all of them left feeling a renewed sense of confidence.
“I would say this has changed my life, the covering of these scars has changed my life,” said Joyce Hill, a survivor who came to the event to add on to her existing tattoos. “I don’t feel like I have to hide myself any longer.”
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