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Saved by the tattoo: Breast cancer survivors mark their time alive with body art

Art for life: Leandria Miller-Wal, a breast cancer survivor from New Jersey, gets a tattoo that covers her mastectomy scar at Saved Tattoo on Oct. 21.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Breast cancer survivors from across the country traveled to Williamsburg on Monday to have their breasts tattooed and cover the scars left by painful cancer surgeries.

The 10 participating women, all of whom have undergone mastectomies and only some of whom had follow-up breast reconstruction surgery, were flown out by the founders of P-ink, an organization that helps former patients of the dread disease get ink. The ladies who went under the gun said that being permanently adorned with artwork of their choosing has given them a new lease on life and their bodies.

“The tattoo gives us power, and gives us something beautiful that’s ours,” said Charisse Reeder, who came from her home in California to have a dolphin splashed across her chest.

An organizer says that tattooing is part of the process of getting back to normal while also memorializing the days, months, and years lost to doctor’s appointments, chemotherapy, and recovering from breast removal surgery.

“The ultimate goal is to give the survivor access to someone who can do the work” and to get help “defining what breast cancer looks like” on their terms, said Noel Franus, the founder of P-ink.

For Reeder, the result was a mission accomplished.

“I’ve gone as far as I can go with medical procedures, ” she said. “The tattoo is something I’ve picked out, so it’s personal to me.”

Fulner and his colleagues raised over $20,000 for the event through the online fund-raising web site Indiegogo and connected the 10 women with top-of-the-line body art at Williamsburg’s Saved Tattoo on Union Avenue.

“These are the best artists we could find,” Franus said.

Based on the reactions of the participants, the artwork they wore away from Saved Tattoo was priceless.

“I came home from New York, took a shower, looked in the mirror, and I was so happy,” said Mari Ruddy, a two-time breast cancer survivor from Minnesota. “Like, ‘This is beautiful.’ ”

Several participating survivors complained that the reconstructive surgery available through their insurance companies was unsatisfactory, if was available at all, and, whether they ultimately went through the procedures or not, they agreed that body art was an affirming alternative.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4514.
A little ink: Charisse Reeder, a breast cancer survivor from California, shows off the outline of her new tattoo.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

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