This Woman Got Post-Mastectomy Tattoos To Reclaim Her Body After Breast Cancer
"The tattooing was like therapy, a surgery for the soul."
This is Nikki Black, a 25-year-old comedian from Los Angeles. At age 23 while doing stand-up in Philadelphia, Black went to the doctor to get a biopsy of her breast tissue. The next week the doctor's office called and told her she had breast cancer.
Black told BuzzFeed News that she was devastated by the news. Her brother was with her when she found out, and she called her mom to let her know. She was also shocked by the diagnosis because she was so young and had no family history of the disease.
Her treatment for the disease was a double mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy. She said dealing with treatment was "extremely difficult," but her family and the stand-up comedy community in Philadelphia were extremely supportive.
In coping with her diagnosis, Black turned to art, makeup, and photography as a form of therapy and expression. She would draw designs on her head and had photographs taken as a way of dictating how her body would look.
She said while recovering and going through breast reconstruction, she was alarmed by how her condition and recovery was perceived by some, and felt she had lost ownership of how her body looked.
When you have breast cancer, you lose control of your body in so many ways.
I literally lost my breasts, lost feeling in parts of my chest, didn't even get to keep my nipples, had to deal with a different type of pain every day, and on top of that, it's an extremely sexualized disease.
I had guys asking me what size I was planning on getting, telling me that they would miss the boobs I had. I had somebody tell me I could probably do fetish porn after I recovered.
After going through reconstruction, she decided that getting tattoos was a perfect way to take back control. "I didn't want my pre-cancer body back, but I wanted the body I have to be mine."
She contacted Holly Feneht, who owns a tattoo shop called The Gilded Lily Design, which specializes in paramedical art. Feneht works with local hospitals and surgeons in helping patients cover surgical scars, and is an expert in post-mastectomy tattoos.
They communicated back and forth, and Feneht came up with a design that incorporated floral elements and a fish to represent Black's star sign, Pisces. Black was moved by the beauty of the work. "I almost cried at my desk; it was so beautiful."
Black's friend Ren accompanied her to the sessions, and Black said the whole process was full of "feminine healing energy."
Black is now in remission, and will have to undergo treament and monitoring for the next five years. She wrote in an XO Jane article about how getting the tattoos has been a positive process: "The tattooing was like therapy, a surgery for the soul."
Black said the reactions to her tattoos have been spectacular. "People love them! I love them! 10/10. People have been so supportive — it's been amazing!"
Black says that she hopes writing about and documenting her experience will serve as a way of helping others.
"When I was first diagnosed, I really could have used some positive reading on the whole experience, so I hope I can do that for somebody."