Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Dec. 2, 2020

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Vancouver tattoo artist restores areolas for breast cancer patients

3D tattoos last eight to 10 years, often help with psychological aspect of recovery

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
9 Photos
Vancouver resident Lina Anderson performs an areola restoration procedure with her client Mary, of Vancouver, at Studio Meraki in Portland. In the background, Anderson has a wall of breasts that she painted.
Vancouver resident Lina Anderson performs an areola restoration procedure with her client Mary, of Vancouver, at Studio Meraki in Portland. In the background, Anderson has a wall of breasts that she painted. Photos by Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

If Lina Anderson has done her job well, you won’t quite be able to notice.

The 30-year-old Vancouver resident is a tattoo artist at Studio Meraki in Portland, where one of her specialties is tattoo restoration for breast cancer patients. For a little more than a year, breast cancer patients have been visiting Anderson to get tattoos that help them feel closer to whole again after cancer and treatment has altered their bodies

But instead of doing large chest pieces, Anderson focuses on 3D areola tattoo restoration — which means she’s essentially tattooing what look like nipples onto patients, or “creating something that looks natural,” as Anderson puts it.

“It’s not better for everyone,” Anderson said. “For someone like me — I’m heavily tattooed — I would have no problem getting a big chest piece. But for a woman who has no tattoos and wants to feel whole again, it can really help them feel like nothing is missing. They aren’t taken aback when they walk past the mirror. It just kind of helps them forget what happened.”

Mary, a Vancouver resident who recently visited Anderson for an areola restoration procedure and asked not to be identified, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. She had three surgeries for her cancer, including a double mastectomy.

Tattoos

Call Lina Anderson at 971-337-5401 or email her at lina@studiomeraki.net.

Mary finished cancer treatment around Thanksgiving and decided Anderson’s restoration work could provide a psychological end point for her. Having cancer can feel like you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, Mary said, so that areola restoration was a “nice way to feel I was finished.”

Mary said she hasn’t struggled much with self-confidence since completing treatment, but added that after her surgeries, she could “get that flash, see the scars and it makes you think about” cancer.

“It’s really great to just not have as much of a visible reminder any time you get out of the shower and look in the mirror,” Mary said.

Anderson sees about three to five women a week for the procedure, though some weeks are busier. She was trained in Texas for the procedure, and researched it more after her grandmother-in-law had a double mastectomy. Anderson felt the natural look of 3D areola tattoos might make sense for a woman older than 70 with no other tattoos.

Anderson’s grandmother-in-law hasn’t gotten restorative tattoos, but Anderson still pursued the profession.

“It’s exciting, and it’s humbling, too,” Anderson said. “These women have been through more than I can ever imagine, and they have amazing stories.”

One of Anderson’s favorite stories was when a client asked Anderson at a follow-up appointment if she could take her breast out for a spin before going on a date. It was the woman’s first date in years, and she told Anderson that she had the confidence to re-enter the dating world because of her 3D tattoos.

“That’s a very sexual part of the human body, and they feel very incomplete or dysfunctional because they don’t have any sensation, which is a huge part of it,” Anderson said. “For someone to feel, at least visually, that they look beautiful, it can really help.”

Anderson said clients share their stories with her all the time. She said it’s somewhat of a misconception that women aren’t willing to share enough about breast cancer. “They share if you listen,” Anderson said.

Anderson considers herself lucky in terms of where she falls in the breast cancer journey. Women are happy when they see Anderson because she comes into the picture after treatment and surgeries.

“It’s like this long journey of tons of doctor’s appointments, insurance and all this stuff,” she said. “It’s a struggle, but they’re always really happy when they get to the end. I feel like I get to have a little party with them. It’s really happy.”

The tattoos can last eight to 10 years, depending on activity levels. Anderson said making people happy is her favorite part of the job.

“I love when people start crying, but I hate it because I cry. It’s really hard,” Anderson said. “It’s such a beautiful thing to see someone so happy by something that they should have anyway. It shouldn’t be taken from them, but I’m happy to put it back there for them.”

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