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6 Tattoo Artists Turning Breast Cancer Scars Into Works of Art

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Life is forever changed when someone is diagnosed with breast cancer or tests positive for BRCA1 and BRCA2 –genes that increase the risk of female breast and ovarian cancer. Then, when a mastectomy occurs, another layer of emotional and physical recovery is thrown into the mix.

Luckily, there are a few talented tattoo artists out there whose main goal is to help breast cancer survivors heal and gain an extra boost of confidence after surgery. From brightly colored illustrations to lifelike 3D nipple reconstruction, these tattoo artists are leaving a positive mark on the cancer community.

1. Darlene DiBona

“It provides me with a sense of purpose in my work that I’ve grown to need.” That’s what Darlene DiBona, owner and Director of Odyssey Wellness, has to say about her work with areola reconstruction and mastectomy tattooing. DiBona, who has been a tattoo artist for 17 years, created the Massachusetts-based studio specifically for women who have gone through breast cancer treatment and want to heal and live their lives. However, she also does traditional tattoos for anyone who wants one.

2. David Allen

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Former painter-turned-tattoo-artist David Allen from Pioneer Tattoo in Chicago has made a name for himself for the eye-catching mastectomy tattoos he’s produced for breast cancer survivors. Having been raised by a single mother he says he always knew women were strong, but meeting female breast cancer survivors in person only made him realize it more. In addition to creating mastectomy tattoo art, Allen gives public talks to doctors and medical professionals about his work.

3. Jennette Conners

Jenentte Conners, owner of Ontario-based tattoo studio A Tat of Class, said she found a new calling for areola reconstruction and post-mastectomy tattooing after she kept getting requests from clients for both. Once she started doing them, and saw how effective they were in helping her clients heal, she never looked back. Whether she’s doing these tattoos, adding permanent makeup or covering up old tattoos, she views every body she works on as a canvas for her artistic skills.

4. Mark Corliss

Although his main focus is Japanese-style tattoo art on traditional body parts, Massachusetts artist Mark Corliss from Spilt Milk Tattoo Studio has a special place in his heart for breast cancer survivors. A few years ago when he was covering up a woman’s breast cancer scars with flowers, she asked him to instead create nipple tattoos. He was nervous but did it, and when he saw how happy both she and her husband were, he realized he could now do something to help people heal. Shortly after he started offering free 3D nipple reconstruction surgery to breast cancer survivors.

5. Holly Feneht

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The Gilded Lily in Santa Clarita, California is unique because it’s the only clinic in the city focused on paramedical body art — art for people who have undergone chemotherapy or multiple surgeries. Owner Holly Feneht focuses her work on figurative nipple and aerola 3D tattooing to help women recovering from breast cancer gain self-confidence. Her ultimate goal is to create a nonprofit in the areas that will raise money for women who can’t afford to get these tattoos on their own.

6. Shane Wallin

For 20 years, Shane Wallin has been known for his bright and bold tattoo artwork, but for the last few years, he’s been making a name for himself at San Diego’s Garnet Tattoo for his mastectomy tattoos. Wallin created his first tattoo for a breast cancer survivor a few years ago when a woman asked him to design a lace bra over her entire chest. When she passed away two weeks after he finished the tattoo, it had a huge impact on him. In 2014, he and his wife created Mastectomy Tattoo, a tattoo studio whose mission is “to help cancer survivors reclaim what cancer has taken from them.”

Originally published: August 21, 2017
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