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Following her double mastectomy, breast cancer survivor Kim was left with scars where she once had nipples. She felt as though a piece of her identity was taken away with the scalpel and was desperate to find her femininity and feel whole again.
"Coping with a double mastectomy is a vane process that you don't really realize when you're fighting for your life," Kim said of why she wanted new nipples tattooed over her scars. "This is what you use to define yourself, and when you have that taken away, you have to fight to find a new balance of femininity and your identity."
As part of the reconstruction process, surgeons typically apply a single-tone pigment to the breast areas where the areola once was, but Kim wanted her post-cancer, survivor nipples to be uniquely hers, detailed and dimensional. "I wanted something that was a little more in-depth — so I decided I'd rather go to an experienced tattoo artist," she explained.
In her journey to regain her sense of identity, Kim found San Diego-based tattoo artist and co-owner of Garnet Tattoo, Shane Wallin, who has developed a unique skill set for areola tattooing and pigmentation. "In 2012, I had the opportunity to work on a client who had breast cancer," said Wallin. "I didn't really expect for that experience to have such a big effect on me, but it really did."
Inspired by his first experience working with a cancer survivor, Wallin wanted to help more women, like Kim, re-design their post-cancer breasts. So, when he was approached by a plastic surgeon asking if he would be interested in working on areola pigmentation for breast cancer survivors, the answer was simple and his career changed forever.
Following an in-depth private consultation, Wallin and Kim talked about nipple shape, size, shading preference, and nerve sensation before any ink was applied. Following the consultation, Wallin got to work designing Kim's new nipples. Watch the emotional video above to see how Wallin helped Kim rebuild her confidence post-cancer and how a set of tattoos restored what cancer had stolen from her.