By Patricia Higgins
Samantha Gascoigne cuts a strong and successful figure: a beaming and fantastically fit mother of five, a network marketing pro and an inspiring personal trainer who has helped many of her clients make startling transformations – both physically and mentally. But, behind all this, Samantha is acquainted with the power of transformation on a much deeper level.
Diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer at age 42, Samantha initially visited her doctor for a routine screening after she was prompted by a strange and prophetic dream. Although she had no symptoms, her gut feeling told her to push ahead with a myriad of tests that did, eventually, lead to the discovery of microscopic cancer.
Following the rigors of a double mastectomy, hysterectomy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy (plus ongoing hormone therapy) Samantha then faced the news that she should consider removing her nipples as well. After a total of seven operations in just twelve months, she was now healed enough to undergo a nipple reconstruction. Her journey was finally complete when she made the decision to undergo cosmetic tattooing of the areola at ‘The Beauty Spot’ in Burleigh, QLD, Australia.
Samantha speaks highly of her experience with qualified cosmetic tattooist and salon owner Debbie Labes. “I thought I had enough of operations and needles and people prodding and poking, but I’d heard great things about Debbie, so I went to see her and she was very caring and professional. I had no pain during the treatment as she used numbing anesthetic and the results were absolutely phenomenal… to the point where you cannot tell the difference between the reconstruction and tattooing a normal nipple.”
Finding a way to transform a difficult, painful or limiting situation is what empowerment is all about. Whether physical or emotional, scarring seems to be an inevitable part of the human experience. When scars are the result of a surgical procedure they can function as a permanent reminder of pain and loss.
A woman’s self-image can be psychologically linked to the appearance of her anatomy, and in particular to her breasts. Therefore, a missing or scarred areola can be potentially devastating. Cosmetic tattooing is one of the ways to turn this into something positive and beautiful – it can be a powerful way to reclaim a ‘sense of self’.
For Debbie Labes this is one of the most worthwhile aspects of her job. “For me, personally, I find this part of my work to be one of the most rewarding things I do. It’s all about putting you back together so that your outside matches your inside…to give you a sense of normality.”
Samantha’s story (and Debbie’s expertise) form just one of many examples of the work being done to correct mastectomy scars in the wider community and around the world. One such website called P.Ink helps tattoo artists connect with women who are requiring this specialized service. Tattoo artist David Allen comments on the process. “What was clinical became beautiful again… we turned sterile into sensual. We took back control.”
And, over in Canada, artist Shaughnessy Keeley is also doing great things in the field of areola restorative tattooing. She currently operates from ‘Studio Sashiko’ in British Columbia. Some of her more playful motifs include heart shapes, but her more standard hyper-realistic designs “help cancer survivors rebuild a relationship with their breasts”.
It’s important to note that whilst cosmetic tattooing may be readily available, it should only be administered by qualified professionals who have undergone certifiable education, training, and experience. Cosmetic tattooing of the areola should only be performed after approval by a surgeon.
In conclusion, we turn back to Samantha. For this strong, instinct-based woman areola tattooing comprised the final part of her recovery – the ‘finishing touch’ after breast surgery. And, just like a cherry on top of an ice-cream, it was a welcome flourish to her overall sense of normality and the culmination of her personal journey and transformation. For Samantha, and many women like her – this is certainly very well-deserved.