‘Every pain, every sadness... just disappeared’: Richmond tattoo artist covers up breast cancer port scars

Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 5:42 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - For years, many breast cancer survivors have found solace in getting mastectomy tattoos, but now there is another aspect of their journey that is getting a little artwork as well.

Amy Black, owner of Amy Black Tattoos in Richmond’s Carytown neighborhood, has transformed areas of the body into works of art for more than 20 years.

However, beyond the blank canvas of the body, she is well known for her mastectomy tattoos.

In 2010, Black started doing this specialized tattooing and has partnered with breast cancer groups and medical teams across the country. The Richmond artist even founded her own non-profit, Pink Ink Fund to help financially support breast cancer patients with their post-mastectomy tattoo.

Breast cancer survivors have sought Black’s skills over the years to mark their journey forward.

“I definitely think it’s a way for them to reclaim their body, their health, their power, their choice,” she said. “Their ability to choose what they want to do with themselves post-cancer treatment.”

However, for many breast cancer survivors, the scars of their journey remain - literally.

“Jan. 13 is when I found out,” said Jessica Bourne, a breast cancer survivor.

2020 was a year that impacted all of us. For Bourne, it was a bit more difficult – continuing to serve her community as a Richmond Police forensic investigator all while battling breast cancer.

“My philosophy in life is when you’re having a bad day, someone else is having a worse day,” she said.

So, after being diagnosed with stage 2-3 triple-negative breast cancer at age 26, she tried to make the best out of her time during chemo treatment.

“Nobody could go in, and thank God for the nurses because they were so amazing,” Bourne said. “My mom sat outside, and they made sure I had a window, so I could see her and we could Facetime.”

Her treatments required a surgically implanted access port with a thin silicone tube that attaches to a vein. This allows chemotherapy medications to be delivered directly into the port rather than having a needle stuck in a vein in the arm multiple times.

“You get used to it,” Bourne said. “It was kind like of part of you, but once it’s removed, it’s like what do you do?”

That is how Bourne ended up connecting with Black.

“It’s a really highly visible area that they have to look at day in and day out,” Black said.

Bourne’s inch and a half port scar carried the weight of her cancer journey; Black used her skills to help Jessica heal.

“I could just feel every pain, every sadness, every anger of me just disappear,” Bourne said. “It was amazing.”

“I’m just honored to be able to give this person something that is helping to shift their perspective away from having to deal with cancer and not having to look down and see that little reminder every day,” Black said.

What remains now is a black and white jellyfish.

“I think they’re just so cool,” Bourne said. “It’s one that can just regenerate and basically live again.”

It is the jellyfish’s ability to keep on going that also inspires Bourne.

“I immediately sent the picture to my mom and dad, and they were just like ‘we can tell in your eyes how much better you feel,’” she said. “It was just like everything from the past year just disappeared, and I could live again.”

Before getting the tattoo coverup, Bourne consulted with her doctor to ensure it was safe to move forward with her session.

Additionally, Black said tattooing these kinds of coverups is different than other areas of the body.

“It can be tricky because scars do not like to follow rules,” she said. “They can sometimes have a lot of texture to them, they can be different sizes, and basically it happens when the skin gets broken down so it’s not natural skin tissue.”

Meanwhile, Bourne is focused on what her new tattoo symbolizes, both in the past and future.

“I just kind of embrace it,” Bourne said. “People might hide behind it, but I’m still here; I have this beautiful art on my body, and I’m just going to shine.”

For more information on breast cancer tattoos, click here.

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