Director, Personal Ink, A Program of LetsFCancer
Personal Ink (P.ink) began as a grassroots movement in 2013, founded by Noel Franus, who was inspired by his sister-in-law, Molly, who had had a double mastectomy and did not want traditional areola tattoos and had no idea how to go about finding an artist. The first P.ink Day was held in Brooklyn, NY on 10/10/2013 with 10 survivors and artists from across the country. The following year, a dozen of the participants (artists and tattoo recipients) held 12 events across the US and Canada. The rest is history! We talked to Karen Richards, the program director of P.ink, about this beautiful initiative and how they help women to gain confidence and emotional strength after such a tough time.
Karen, you say most survivors have two choices – reconstruction or not. Why do you think that having a tattoo of this kind makes it a good third option?
Because breast cancer sucks. Even if you survive, it ravages your body, complicates relationships, and leaves permanent, uninvited marks. We think that covering these scars with a different kind of mark – a tattoo – can help mastectomy patients reclaim their scarred bodies, by turning something painful and clinical into something beautiful and sensual. P.ink empowers women to reclaim their bodies after mastectomies, through connection with tattoo artists who can cover their scars in beautiful artwork.
What can a tattoo teach survivors about loving and accepting their body, especially after having such a tough time?
These tattoos nearly always contain personal elements, deeply meaningful to the recipients. They can be reminders of what is most important in their lives – their loved ones, the beauty that exists in the world, and within themselves.
Are you just serving breast cancer survivors or are you available for every kind of cancer survivor?
We feel that losing one or both breasts are a unique cost in terms of what various cancers take from those who face this illness. It’s been our experience, that there is no other cancer treatment that removes a critical part of a person that defines them as their gender, often times visually (in the cases of no reconstruction) and that is tied to their identity the way that mastectomies do. They often feel mutilated, unwomanly, and sexually unattractive. So while we do serve all mastectomy survivor – previvors included, and we of course recognize that anyone who has had cancer has undergone trauma, we feel that women who have lost one or both breasts are the ones who need this specific type of healing the most.
This is more than just about getting a tattoo. What changes in personality and behavior do you see in your clients after they got a tattoo?
The transformation is incredible. So many women have never even shown their partners their chests since their surgery are now so confident and proud and feel so sexy and brave. It‘s the very best part of this work.
Tell us more about the P.ink Day-Events.
Every October tattoo studios across North America close their doors for a day to create a free curated healing experience for recipients who have had mastectomies and are seeking closure through coverage of their scars with beautiful artwork. All tattoos are donated by talented and trained tattoo artists who are experienced in tattooing over scar tissue successfully. Over 300 of these tattoos have been donated via P.ink Days since 2013.