After a long and tortuous medical journey, women survivors of breast cancer must learn to reclaim a transformed body, punctuated with scars. On the thread of personal reconstruction, the post-breast cancer tattoo is emerging as a therapeutic tool in its own right.
Whether it’s a 3D reproduction of a nipple or symbolic drawings apprehended as ornamentation, this needlework art makes the ink of self-esteem flow. This artistic approach acclaimed by those who have experienced mastectomy makes it possible to draw a final line on the disease in all beauty. Focus.
The art of tattooing in the service of self-love
Every year in France, 54,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. When the verdict is heard, treatments and operations follow one another leaving more or less visible scars in their path. According to the Cancer League, 20,000 women undergo a mastectomy following breast cancer. For many, removal of the breast, whether or not supplemented by surgical reconstruction, sounds the death knell of femininity.
Physical and psychological storm, this “amputation” sweeps with it the self-esteem, however so precious. This loss, perceived at first with fatality, finds a positive echo behind the joyous layout of post-breast cancer tattoos. For these women who have to deal with a metamorphosed bust, tattoo mania is much more than a recreational hobby, it is a symbolic act. Choosing a tattoo is sign the end of this fierce fight with the disease.
If, last September, the Paoli-Calmettes Institute in Marseille gave hope of an operation without bodily traces thanks to robot-assisted surgery, post-breast cancer tattooing has forged a prestigious place in this reconciliation with oneself. Hollows, bumps, asymmetries, scars and so many other “disgraces” find a certain harmony behind the art of tattooing. The body becomes a vibrant and radiant canvas, in full renewal.
These engravings on the skin are bearers of hope. And to democratize these restorative tattoos, initiatives are flourishing in the Pink October landscape. Since 2016 for example, the Rose Tattoo event initiated by the Soeurs d’Encre association offers women in post-treatment artistic and life-saving tattoos.
In 2019, this association supported in unison by scar tattoo professionals was recognized as supportive oncological care. But for now, this tattoo postage is not reimbursed.
The trompe l’oeil tattoo to recreate the nipple
In total, 1 in 7 women opt for post-mastectomy reconstruction. In a medical approach this time, the tattoo says “restorative dermopigmentation” is the last step in reconstructive surgery. This areola tattoo is kind of the “show stopper” since it allows you to recreate almost identically the appearance of the nipple.
But despite all the meticulousness of the gesture, this rebirth of the nipple by decal loses its initial luster after a few years. To avoid the “faded” effect and keep this “false” nipple intact over time, the “3D” tattoo is a safe bet. This technique imported from the United States gives the illusion of reality by playing only on relief and shadows.
Fine lines, freckles, Montgomery tubercles, moles… all the details come into play. The goal ? To make the exploration of this new body less brutal and to make this reconstructed chest sound familiar. For many women, it’s a small miracle that helps regain dignity in front of the mirror.
The decorative tattoo to hide the scars
Blossoming flowers, a phoenix or even a dove in full flight… these decorative motifs with liberating accents have the power to animate bodies bruised by disease. One in five French people is tattooed. For many, this indelible inscription is a response to a significant event.
After breast cancer, the tattoo allows you to start from scratch, to make a new start. It is an artistic way of erasing the dark scars of the past and of re-tame this bust under more radiant contours.
“Tattooing on scars in order to sublimate damaged skin is sometimes the first work of benevolence of a woman towards her body and its history”, declared Alexia Cassar, tattoo artist at the origin of The Tétons Tattoo Shop
Decline on a mastectomy scar, around reconstruction prostheses, on the back or stomach in the context of flap reconstructions, the tattoo gives the desire to puff out the chest and to assert oneself. Carried out according to the rules of the art, it is however necessary wait two years after the last intervention before going under the needle.
Breast cancer and tattooing, a harmless equation?
Before spilling the ink of optimism, medical approval is required. Despite the beneficial effect of tattooing on the mind and self-esteem, the substances used raise some questions. According to a UFC Que Choisir survey from February 2021, 75% of tattoo inks contain “carcinogenic, neurotoxic or highly allergenic products”.
According to another, more recent study by the European Chemicals Agency, several toxic and carcinogenic elements have been detected in the inks. Charcoal, gelatin, shellac, glycerin and other festivities are on the menu of industrial inks. To avoid risks, the European Union has banned 25 dubious pigments. Conversely, vegan inks, devoid of heavy metals, are slowly beginning to impose themselves in tattoo parlours. However, the 100% organic permanent tattoo does not yet exist.
On the other hand, those who wish to be initiated into this eternal work to make peace with their body can turn to specialized sites. The Soeur d’Encre association places the health of these women at the forefront. She works hand in hand with specialists ranging from oncologists to surgeons so that the tattoo does not jeopardize healing efforts. She also uses ink with NF standard.
In Gironde, post-cancer repair tattoos have been covered by the CPAM since September 2021. Knowing that a tattoo costs between €300 and €1,000, depending on the size, it is a significant gift. This poetic art works wonders both literally and figuratively.
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