Breast cancer survivors feel whole again

Published: Nov. 18, 2011 at 9:36 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 18, 2011 at 9:49 PM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Women who've endured breast reconstruction surgery, from up and down the East Coast, are coming to Richmond because they've found a friend in Amy Black. Amy is a gifted tattoo artist - who amazingly, has developed a way to re-create nipples and areolas for women, who've lost them to cancer.

Susan Wheeler drove up to Richmond from North Carolina for the final step in her 4 year journey of becoming whole again.

Susan detected a lump in her left breast. What followed was a series of 5 surgeries over two years. A mastectomy, chemo-therapy, radiation -- and then, several surgeries for breast reconstruction. There was the loss of her hair, the loss of her dignity and in her mind, the loss of her sexuality.

And that's why she's here - at Amy Black's 'Trademark Tattoo'. Even after reconstruction, Susan was left with no nipple or areola on her left breast - a blank canvas for Amy, who specializes in nipple and areola re-pigmentation on women who've had mastectomies. Even before her tattoo career - Amy had a background in anatomical rendering. It's that odd-mix of art & science that make her a favorite of several local plastic surgeons, who send their patients here.

"They're as individual as thumb prints," said Amy. "You really have to look beyond what I'm seeing as an artist, and trying to give this woman her natural appearance back."

Susan's oncologist had someone in the office that could do this tattoo work - she even had an appointment scheduled, but abruptly cancelled.

"She was offering a pretty simple tattoo, and I just felt like that wasn't what I wanted. I wanted natural looking. I wanted it to look like the nipple looked and the areola," Susan said.

After 4 sessions with Amy..."It really looks so natural that a girlfriend of mine looked at it - and couldn't believe I hadn't had more surgery done," she said.

It's just a tattoo but for Susan, it's the final piece of the puzzle in her journey to feel whole again. For Amy, it's a sense of satisfaction that she finds difficult putting into words.

"When I look in the mirror, I feel normal again. I always avoided looking at the blank side, while it was there - now I can look - and feel very good about it," Susan said.

"To have the skill set to make this woman feel whole again, that's beyond me, that's bigger than me - it's not about my satisfaction, it's about their satisfaction and happiness," Amy explained.

Amy has also started the "pink ink" nipple re-pigmentation fund, to help those in need of financial assistance for this service.

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