If the mass quantities of pink flooding the shops currently haven’t given you the hint, October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month—a national health movement organized by the top breast cancer charities to help develop awareness and raise funds for continued research into this devastating disease.
Breast cancer affects approximately 1 in every 8 women in the US. While this may not seem that high at first glance, you have to realize exactly how many cases that translates into. The nonprofit organization BreastCancer.org estimated that 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer would be diagnosed in American women in just 2017 alone—with another 63,410 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer being thrown on top of that figure.
That’s just the women.
For 2017, it is believed that 2,470 new cases of breast cancer will be revealed in males across the US as well.
Unfortunately, these figures also estimate that 40,610 of the afflicted women will pass away from breast cancer in 2017.
For many of those who are lucky enough to beat this deadly disease, there is still an uphill battle to face.
This October, I was able to witness this battle first-hand.
I am the co-owner of a tattoo studio in Central Florida—called Twistid Ink. We recently opened and are currently running on our fourth month of operation. In our town, we are the only studio with a completely private tattoo area. We have a separate lobby area, with locked doors between the front of house and the tattooing area.
It didn’t take long for word to spread regarding our private set-up.
When October arrived, we were approached by a client who wanted us to help her complete the final steps in her battle against breast cancer.
Our client, who for privacy reasons shall remain unnamed, was a two-time breast cancer survivor. During her first encounter with this awful disease, she had a lumpectomy—having only a portion of the breast removed to dispel the tumor. After completing the entire ordeal of battling cancer, she was diagnosed for the second time. If being diagnosed the first time wasn’t excruciating enough, our client found herself fighting the disease once again. It was during this round of treatment that she decided to have a complete mastectomy—both breasts were removed in an effort to get one foot ahead of the disease.
During the surgery, our client opted to have her natural breasts removed and replaced with implants similar in size and shape to her natural appearance. However, as with all mastectomies, she was left with a handful of scars and no actual nipples.
For a woman, this can be a detrimental strike to our self-esteem.
Women are bombarded on a daily basis by supermodels in TV, magazines, and movies. Facing and surviving breast cancer is harrowing enough, but having to learn to adjust to a life with an altered appearance can leave a woman with severe anxiety and self-esteem problems. Escaping the memory of this awful disease is difficult, as well, when every day—as they look in the mirror—they are reminded of the trials they had to experience to survive.
This is what brought our client into our lobby.
She wanted to reclaim her body, to be able to look in the mirror and see something beautiful. It had been six years since her last surgery. She had lived with her tainted self-opinion year in and year out, simply because she didn’t feel comfortable in any of the other local shops due to the open-layouts.
After dozens of surgeries, doctors’ appointments, and intimate poking and prodding, she was standing in our lobby wanting to go under the final needle.
We went through our normal process—a detailed consultation appointment to determine her needs and wants. Then, we moved on to the drawing stage, in which my artist and co-owner—Danny Belden—created a one of a kind design that encompassed her desires for the piece. Once the design was agreed upon, we set the appointment date.
As I usually do with our first-time tattoo clients, I provided her links to articles explaining what she could expect during the process and what to do before her scheduled appointment. She seemed pleased but still seemed to be moderately conservative regarding the upcoming event.
On the day of her appointment, we—my artist and I—were both nervous. This was an important piece—her own opinion of herself was hinged on the completion of this design. As she sat in our lobby and explained the entire ordeal to me, during my artist’s setup, it was even more apparent that we needed to really nail this piece. She had been through a serious hardship and deserved the closure she was actively seeking. She was already a beautiful woman and to hear her say it changed the way she looked at herself, it was heartbreaking.
The appointment went seamlessly, despite everyone’s trepidation. She sat wonderfully, and my artist was able to create a beautiful piece just for her. Throughout the session, our client refused to look at the progress being made. She was holding out until the finished product.
I checked in on her and our artist regularly, reassuring her (and him), and making sure everyone was as comfortable as could be. I could already sense she was beginning to feel relieved and she hadn’t even taken a look, yet.
When I was called back at the completion of the piece, our client still hadn’t looked yet. I entered the private room as she sat, quite comfortably, on the table—getting ready to look in our full-length mirrors for the first time.
Now, I am not an overly emotional person, so what happened next really caught me off guard.
As our client approached the mirror, it was a tense moment. Danny and I exchanged several nervous looks, waiting to see her reaction. When she stepped in front of the mirror, seeing her new appearance for the first time, it made the entire process worth every ounce of stress we had all felt. Tears welled up in her eyes as a grin spread from ear to ear. Her color, her posture, her overall behavior changed instantly. It was as close to pure joy as I have ever seen on a client’s face before. She began to thank us, trying to keep her composure, as both myself and my artist also attempted to keep it together. I personally could feel the tears welling up in my eyes.
Seeing the impression that we had on her life, the ability to give her back her body and make her feel beautiful again, reminded me exactly why we got into this industry in the first place.
Two weeks later, I received a follow-up email from our client—and once again, I found myself on the verge of tears.
Danny and Elisha,
Now that I have (somewhat) calmed down over my excitement from getting my tattoos I wanted to take the time to thank you both! I cannot put into words what this addition has meant to me. For the first time in years, I finally feel beautiful and my confidence level has increased. It might seem silly that just two tattoos can make such a difference in my life. I’m not afraid to look in the mirror anymore. I feel more confident about dating someone. You both were so professional and supportive in the whole experience. Danny, your talent amazes me and I thank you with all my heart for giving such time and effort! It’s tempting to walk around topless all the time now LOL but seriously I cannot thank you both enough.”
Being able to give someone back their body is a feat not many industries can say they are able to accomplish. The fact that a simple tattoo can create a feeling of appreciation, wonder, and confidence is an incredible achievement that should not be overlooked. And, breast cancer is a devastating disease that should not be ignored. Thankfully, there are many tattoo shops and charities that are working hard to raise both awareness and funds to battle this disease and give women back their lives. We are so excited to be part of the fight.
To join the fight against breast cancer, check out these sites: