Tattoo artist Friday Jones is joyful as she meticulously outlines and carefully colors a set of matching tattoos for a client. Though Jones’ home base is Tattoo Couture in New York City, this particular job has taken her out of state. The client, Karen Richards, is getting the finishing touches put on a large tattoo that covers her mastectomy surgery scars.
Richards found a lump in her breast in 2002 and soon after was diagnosed with breast cancer. After this diagnosis, women often have all or most of their breast tissue removed via mastectomy, to prevent the spread of the disease. If the woman chooses reconstructive surgery after the breast tissue is removed, she can opt to receive implants or to have her breast reconstructed using tissue harvested from her own body (also called an “autologous reconstruction"). Richards chose the latter after her double mastectomy — yet the result of her reconstruction still felt foreign to her. “It never [felt like part of] my body,” she explains.
To make the reconstructions appear similar to natural breasts, skin on the reconstructed breast can be shaped to mimic an areola; then, pigment can be tattooed on top to give the appearance of a nipple. (It’s also possible to tattoo a realistic nipple without shaping the skin.) Of course, some women choose not to reconstruct their breasts at all. Either way, the surgery scars often remain visible, and many women adorn them with tattoo art.
Click through to learn about these post-mastectomy tattoos and see gorgeous photos of Jones' work with Richards and other breast cancer survivors.