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Getting a mastectomy, is no picnic, besides that, it can be depressing for breast cancer survivors to look at their bare chests in the mirror and think, ‘If only I could look like the old me, again’
Well, they now can thanks to Vinnie Myers, who uses his tattoo artistry to make breast cancer patients look feel and look whole again, not just as women but as works of art.
One example would be that of Jennifer Bohling, a cancer survivor, a year and seven months after her mastectomy and final silicone implants for her reconstructed breasts, wanted to look ‘whole again’.
So, she went to see Vinnie.
Jennifer disrobed and showed her bare chest, scars and all to the man who said who could fix it.
She then asked how they look and Vinnie mused.
He took a careful look at each of them, pressed the spots with gloved fingers and said, “They look good”, and not so good because of the tricky nature of the case. The scars ran through each of her breasts horizontally, the exact area where he needed to work to add inked nipples.
He was not a doctor but worked closely with medical specialists and was now high in demand.
Vinnie was once an international star for his tattoo artistry and has now made a name for himself as a legend for breast cancer survivors, especially for inking back the breasts areolas and nipples in a 3D way to make them look like the real deal, more so to make these women feel good again.
Statistics show that around 231,800 women are annually diagnosed with breast cancer, with a large part of them getting mastectomies done, which remove the malignant breast tissue inside the breast usually requiring a total removal of the nipples and areolas. Although,
a surgical reconstruction takes place, the result of the nipples usually looks flat and unrealistic.
Being left with just scars and the pain of the very cancer, women wanted this final and significant step to a change, so all those imperfections disappear, which Vinnie was able to provide.
Vinnie did his first three-dimensional nipple tattoos in 2001, when he met a Baltimore plastic surgeon who was dissatisfied with their inking abilities. So, Vinnie worked with this doctor and was soon asked to help do restorative inking for more breast cancer survivors, who soon started visiting Vinnie’s shop for their inking.
Soon, more medical specialists started to recognize Vinnie’s work and promote him.
Vinnie stopped his previous flashy tattoo work after his sister called and told him she had breast cancer herself. He then felt, ‘This is a sign that I’ve got to keep doing this’, and fully dedicated his career to nipple and areola tattooing.
Vinnie also spends one week each month in
New Orleans hospital to practice what he does and grow beyond the perfectionism he implements. After 14 years of working on reconstructed breasts, he has seen how much of an emotional toll it takes on him.
He has come across poorly reconstructed breasts, with gruesome scars, mis-located nipples or differently sized, which infuriates him as a person and as an artist.
Having worked on more than 8,000 cancer survivors now, he has helped married to single women, who wanted to look normal again so they can find intimacy with a future partner, without feeling ashamed of their scarred body.
No matter what their story, or however damaged they felt, he patiently listens and goes about what he does, being the man they can trust to make at least one part of that journey better.
Each appointment with Vinnie goes something like this:
First, he asks a set of questions about the women’s medical history and procedures they underwent in detail. He then he puts on his gloves and examines their breasts, analyzing them for texture, scar area, skin tone, before taking his pencil and drawing
the most appropriately sized nipples and areola for their breasts. He then places a makeshift nipple, to ask them if they are happy with it, want changes and so they can visualize what they are getting.
He then mixes different colors of ink, to shade in and perfectly blend each woman’s skin color with the right colors of their nipples and areola.
Vinnie’s tattoo parlor, is modest like him, located next to a vet practice in Finksburg, Maryland. Despite its humility, women from all over the US, and 40 other countries such as, Brazil, Kuwait and Japan have traveled just to get their nipples artistically restored.
He gets about six to seven customers a day, each costing between $400-$800, based on the complexity of each woman’s procedure and what they want. He now even has two specially picked artists to help him with this procedure and makes sure it is all done safely.
Women can get this cost covered as breast reconstruction under the Women’s Health and Breast Cancer Right Act of 1990.
Beyond physical , this is a more sentimental and meaningful final
touch for breast cancer survivors, for those who have been inked by Vinnie and those who will be.
For Vinnie, it’s beyond artistic satisfaction or the accolades. It is in just seeing these women’s happy reactions after it‘s done, seeing them smile with tears in their eyes. To know that something he created was the reason for restoring that happiness and filling that void, which is shown through each one of those numerous thank you cards he gets from them.
This reassures him of his calling, that he can change how women feel about themselves- not damaged, but amazing and confident.