Helpful answers for those thinking of getting a post-mastectomy tattoo.
Updated: Apr 10, 2019
I have been working with the charity Breast Cancer Care recently to help answer questions and provide some education to guide people thinking of having a post-surgical tattoo. Questions were collected from their followers, and a shortlist was compiled.
The article will be published through them soon, but here is the original, unedited ramble that I sent to them!
If you think this could be helpful to others- please do share it online and help more lovely people reclaim their body.
Breast Cancer Care Blog. March 2019. Hi there everyone. My name is Anna Garvey, I am a tattoo artist form Shropshire, UK. I have been tattooing for many years (15 this year!). I have always had a passion for the human body, and the amazing realm where science and creativity meet that we better know as tattooing called me to it's service as a teenager.
For me, each tattoo is special and unique to the person wearing it, and I was, and still am charmed and delighted by the fact that we are able to create something that is a visual representation on the outside of who we are on the inside. This image we apply is not 'on' the skin, but it 'is' the skin. It lives, travels, ages and goes everywhere with the wearer for the rest of their life. Approximately a decade into my tattooing career, I did my first post-mastectomy tattoo. I was taught to tattoo very thoroughly, including being introduced early on to working with scarring, unusual skin types and conditions, and so I already had a good amount of knowledge and experience of working with the largest organ of the human body (the skin!). But working with post-mastectomy cover ups is the next level. I already had the technical and artistic basis, but the strength of the experience for both of us blew me away. Every day I give people the power to reclaim their own bodies, but it is different when it is being reclaimed when a fundamental part of it has been taken away. It gives the magic we weave more power. I use the pronoun 'we' because my client and I become a unit. From the very first point of contact, I try to let client know that I am here for them, and I will treat them with empathy, compassion and professionalism from start to finish. I like to do thorough in-person consultations if geography allows, or email and telephone consultations if it doesn't. We discuss medical history of course, as well as detailed design ideas. One of the most important things to me is 'who is this person, what do they want to achieve here, visually and emotionally?' . By getting to know each other first, we can trust one another and work together through the whole process with kindness and strength. So, Breast Cancer Care have taken questions from their followers, and I would like to answer them for you. If some of the answers are long, please bear with it and read them through. I would like to share with you as much knowledge as I can. 1. Can you tattoo on a breast reconstruction? YES! Most breast reconstructions are suitable for being tattooed. There are technical considerations for the tattoo artist, but an artist experienced in this field will know their way around the biology, and will ask you an overview of your surgical history as well as current health to determine suitability.
2. Can you tattoo onto a scar? YES! Great news, I know. Most types of surgical scars can be tattooed over. The same details as in question 1 apply. If an area of scarring is not suitable, a good specialised artist will always be honest with you, and will likely have some clever design tricks up their sleeve to help work with the scarring you have to disguise it.
3. Is there a higher risk of infection or allergic reactions when you tattoo after a mastectomy? No. However, your body may be more delicate after undergoing cancer treatment and surgery. This is where talking through your health and working closely with your chosen artist is vital. A tattoo is a wound, however if the procedure is performed in a hygienic manner and good aftercare given and followed there is little risk of infection or allergy. 4. If I’m unhappy with my nipple tattoo, can this be tattooed over? Yes. However, this unhappiness can be prevented by researching and choosing your artist/clinician vary carefully. There are many excellent para-medical tattoo artists available, but also many sub-standard ones. Look carefully at their portfolio, look for healed as well as fresh examples of work. Also, ask questions! Make sure that you will be happy working with this person and you are satisfied with their experience level and attention to detail.
5. What kind of design would you recommend for a mastectomy tattoo? A kind that will make you feel like you again. We are all unique, and are shaped by our experiences and the things we love. I personally like organic images, especially for post-mastectomy tattoos. They are timeless, elegant, and perfectly represent the growth of life. So channel who you are, your inner fabulousless, your strength and your growth. And work side-by-side with an artist who you trust, will listen to you and help guide you. Who will hold your hand, laugh and cry and sing with you, work away together in comfortable silence, and make this experience the first step into living with your newly reclaimed body.