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Extraordinary Mastectomy Tattoos Offer Breast Cancer Survivors Artistic Alternative to Surgery

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Breast cancer survivors looking to conceal their mastectomy scars now have artistic alternative to breast or nipple reconstruction surgery.

vin-diagram is an organization in Boulder, Colorado, that pairs breast cancer survivors with tattoo artists who help them cover or alter mastectomy scars with tattoos. The nonprofit was founded by Noel Franus, who got the idea when his sister-in-law, Molly Ortwein, was looking for an alternative to breast reconstruction or tattooed nipples following her double mastectomy, The Associated Press reported.

After consulting her family for tattoo ideas, Ortwein chose a tree blossom design.

Molly Ortwein, photo credit David Rose
Photo credit David Rose
Photo credit David Rose was launched in early 2013 on Pinterest as a way to share tattoo ideas and artist information with breast cancer survivors. Later that year, the team fundraised enough money for 10 women to receive tattoos in a single day in Brooklyn, New York.

2013 Pink day

“Mastectomy tattoos are a radical, creative and empowering act of personal reclamation,” Framus told The Mighty. “We at are thrilled to play a role in helping survivors take back control over something that’s controlled them.”

48.P.INK DAY~Saved Tattoo Brooklyn 2013-STOLL

60.P.INK DAY~Saved Tattoo Brooklyn 2013-STOLL copy

Survivor Cherie with artist Shannon Purvis Barron photo credit Gigi Stoll

The first annual day was the takeoff point for a much larger movement. Just one year later, the second annual day featured 37 volunteer artists with past scar or mastectomy experiences and 38 survivors at tattoo parlors in 12 cities across the U.S. and Canada.

For survivors, meeting with a tattoo artist, choosing a design and actually getting the tattoo can be an intimate, emotionally healing process. When a survivor meets with an artist, she can bring a previously chosen design or work with the artist to create something new.

“A great artist will either bring that vision to life in their own unique way, or they’ll help the survivor clarify what they’re looking for, as a therapist of sorts,” Franus told The Mighty. “And they’ll be able to articulate that in the most beautiful, interesting fashion.”

P.INK DAY ~ Saved Tattoo ~ Brooklyn 2013
Photo credit Gigi Stoll

To help provide guidance to people considering a mastectomy tattoo, released Inkspiration, an app designed to allow survivors to try on different designs privately before heading to a tattoo parlor.

“Most survivors have no idea where to begin when they consider a mastectomy tattoo, especially if they’re not a ‘tattoo person,’” David Whitney,’s agency communications manager, told The Mighty in an email. “Users select a body type or upload their own photo and see what a tattoo design looks like on their chest. The app offers a growing library of tattoo designs and also points to a wealth of artists with mastectomy experience.”

Franus says he plans to expand the network beyond North America.

“The need is global, and and we’d like to find those artists around the world who are experienced and talented,” he said. Day event will now be held yearly on October 10th.

“There are many moments in the patient’s journey for us to address, and that’s what we’re focusing on,” Franus told The Mighty. “Stay tuned.”

To download the free Inkspiration app for iPhone, click here.

Watch a video recap of 2013 day in the video below.

The Mighty, in partnership with Fuck Cancer, is asking the following: Write a letter to yourself in regards to a cancer diagnosis. What would you say or wish someone had told you? Find out how to email us a story submission here.

Originally published: January 23, 2015
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