Tattoo shop helps breast cancer survivors regain confidence with 3D nipple tattoos

- "It doesn't look like it even hurts you when you do it. I wanted to cry"

Lisa Chavis's tattoos are not as noticeable as others. The 54-year old has a small pink breast cancer ribbon on her wrist. It says "you go girl."

"It's kind of my badge of honor her badge of honor. I'd go back to work and look at it and I’m like okay you can get through this, it's okay,” she said. 

She also has two three-dimensional nipple tattoos.

"From a distance they look like any other nipple that you would have."

In May 2016, Chavis was diagnosed with breast cancer. She says it was "very overwhelming.” For Chavis, it was almost déjà vu, having survived cancer in her 20's.

"When they told me double mastectomy, I was like, are you kidding me? It just didn't seem possible."

Because she was treated with radiation before, surgery was her only option.

"The type of cancer I had actually involved the nipple and areola. They were removed. After the surgery I was like a little ten-year old boy. I was very flat-chested." 

Chavis underwent breast reconstruction but opted not to have new nipples surgically created. She says her self-esteem was at an all-time low.

"I was very, very self-conscious. I would walk around with my arms covering myself a lot."

Her plastic surgeon suggested areola micro pigmentation, but Chavis could have gone more creative route. 

Tattoo artist Haley Moran says some women choose to cover their scars with something beautiful to commemorate their survival. 

"An even more holistic type of healing art than just a medical type of finishing,” she said.

"You use three-dimensional artistry to recreate a replica of the areola nipple complex that was there before."

Cyrilla Purnell is a permanent makeup artist at Haylo Healing Arts Lounge in Charlotte. She specializes in the noninvasive procedure.

"Together the client and I plan the placement, the size, and the exact colors," Purnell said.

"After I’ve got the 3-D nipple tattoos, I don't think I’ve had a better body image of myself. For me, I needed to have that look of feeling like a woman's breasts are supposed to look."

Chavis says she now feels more comfortable in her own skin.

"It was uplifting. It just felt so good to feel like okay I can look at myself again."

Her advice to other breast cancers survivors contemplating their next step: "Do whatever you have to do to feel good about yourself."

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