Breast cancer: what if tattooing had become a therapeutic tool in its own right?

Every tattoo has its story. Marking his chair for life is of course not without consequences. For women who have had cancer and have had one or both breasts removed, this gesture is even stronger. Not only is it not decided lightly and must be performed in accordance with current medical protocol, but it is also and above all a way for them to close a painful chapter. To get their bodies back. And often to reinvent their femininity, says Nathalie Kaïd, visual artist and founder of the association Sœurs d’encre. Since 2016, this woman who is passionate about tattooing has facilitated access for female cancer survivors to this needle art. Because the procedure is expensive, for the most part several hundred euros on average.

With Soeurs d’encre, she brings together professional tattooists trained in the delicate art of scar tattooing to “revivify” to these women affected by the disease. Since the association’s inception, nearly 300 women have been able to receive a free tattoo from one of the sixty professionals listed by the association.

Beautiful flowers now bloom on the bruised bodies, as if to bring life back to where the disease passed. In his book, Tattooed to love each other, Nathalie Kaïd reveals these reanimated bodies. meeting.

With a mastectomy, you have to mourn your breast. By getting a tattoo instead, you can reclaim this part of the body. The title of my book S’amour tattooée actually sums it all up…

How did you come up with the desire to found the Sœurs d’encre association?

I started tattooing about ten years ago. I was 47 at the time. The impact it had on my relationship with my body was such that I wanted to learn more about all these women who chose to get tattooed. That’s how I got the idea to make a photo testimonials book titled love each other tattooed† The project lasted three and a half years. It compiles photographic portraits of tattooed bodies, accompanied by testimonies of women who have gone under a tattooist’s needle.

At the same time, I still preserved the memory of female breast cancer survivors that I had photographed in 2010 during an exhibition in Bordeaux on the female breast. Their bodies, scarred in the flesh, had struck me and I told myself that they, more than anyone else, could benefit from all the benefits that tattooing can bring to the relationship with the body.

I then decided to contact the tattoo artists I met while creating my book to ask them if they could tattoo scars. I also contacted the Maison Rose in Bordeaux, founded by the Rose Up association, which supports women affected by cancer. Together we set up an event around tattooing in October 2016 (Editor’s Note: Cancer Awareness and Screening Month† Seven tattoo artists, some of whom already specialized in working around scars and burns, participated in the project. The event was very emotional. Many tattooed women stood up from the table crying on this day. One of them went away and said to me: “it’s great, now we’re inky sisters”† I thought it was super beautiful and it made me want to start the association next year to be able to offer more of these types of events.

Photo by Caroline Escafit

What is the purpose of the Soeurs d’encre association?

There are two objectives. The association specializes in tattooing scars, all scars and especially post-breast cancer scars. For six years now, we’ve been selecting tattoo artists to put their art at the service of women affected by the disease. Once a year we organize the Rose Tattoo event where the professionals gracefully tattoo women affected by the disease. The event takes place in several cities in France: Bordeaux, Paris, Colmar, Clermont-Ferrand. The tattoo artists who work with us undergo medical and technical education training with a surgeon and an oncologist. That’s why we offer these tattoos once a year and the rest of the time we raise funds to offer other tattoos on other scars (illness or accident) during the year.

The other objective of the association is to promote the professional reintegration of these women. Because the disease is very isolating socially and precariously. For two years this program was called “And after?” accompanies these women for several years due to illness. We follow them for three, six or nine months, so that they can go back to work.

Is a tattoo after cancer treatments safe?

Since the beginning, we have collaborated with professionals from the medical world: surgeons, oncologists, radiologists who have subscribed to our association. They answer many medical questions that can prevent tattooing. With the association we ensure that the tattoo does not infringe on the health of patients. That is why we study their treatment protocol upstream and, if in doubt, seek advice from an expert. Whatever happens, we ask for a medical certificate for the follow-up of the person we are going to tattoo.

Photos by Caroline Escafit

We have also worked hand in hand with the entire medical profession to define points of vigilance. For example, it is important that the tattoo does not interfere with the second operation (change of prosthesis) or the follow-up of the patient. Indeed, according to the devices, a poorly placed tattoo could interfere with the detection of a new tumor.

Can we think of tattooing as a therapeutic tool?

Yes, I am convinced! In addition, this year we have set up an experimental collaboration with the CPAM of Gironde, subject to funding. It is a great victory for us that artistic tattooing is recognized as a therapeutic tool. To access it, the person must live in the Gironde, but he can get a tattoo from one of our tattoo artists anywhere in France. We prepare a file together and if the conditions of means can pass with the CPAM, the tattoo can be made and reimbursed directly to the tattoo artist. It was very important to us that the tattooed person couldn’t move forward, because the disease was often precarious.

In addition to this great novelty, in 2019 we were designated as oncological supportive care by AFSOS, the French-speaking association for oncological supportive care. This includes all care that will accompany the patient during her non-medical journey. : socio-aesthetics, adapted yoga, etc. Last year we also received the prize for quality of life from the Ruban rose association, which funds research.

What is the procedure for women who want to get a tattoo through your association?

It’s very simple, he just needs to contact us and explain a little bit about his problems. Then Laura Castel, project manager at the association, will contact her or direct her to the site for the medical information that may concern her. She will also find all our tattoo artists there, about sixty in all, spread all over France.

Photo by Caroline Escafit

What does this tattoo represent to these female cancer survivors?

Many women told us that for her it was a way to end the disease. Not seeing the scar anymore, regaining confidence, agreeing to look at your body again, it’s very strong. The tattoo allows some to resume an intimate life they could have endured during the illness. It’s pretty cool! It really is a way to reclaim your body. It restores the energy.

We also see that women who have had one or both breasts removed generally assume a curled up position to protect the scar. When they look in the mirror with their new tattoo, we immediately notice that their chests are bulging. At the attitude level, it’s very important, and at the self-esteem level, that says it all!

Does the tattoo help prevent breast reconstruction or can it be complementary?

There are several scenarios after a mastectomy. Sometimes we manage to keep the shell of the breast and then practice reconstruction. On the other hand, we often could not keep the nipple and the nipple, instead we see a scar that crosses the breast from side to side. Many women then decide to camouflage the scar with a tattoo. For example, by opting for a floral design you can choose to place the pistil at the level of the nipple to give a visual sensation of the nipple. The patterns usually span the chest, sometimes up to the shoulder or lower under the chest. This makes it possible to restore a harmonious shape and volume to the breast, thanks to a perspective effect. The advantage of these artistic tattoos is that they last a long time, unlike tattoos that reproduce the nipple and nipple. Due to the quality of these skin-colored inks, they generally need to be redone every two years.

But there are also other women who have had a mastectomy without reconstruction (flat mastectomy), without choosing to do so. That is, the reconstruction did not work. In these cases, the person generally arrives in a very deteriorated psychological state and getting a tattoo becomes almost the only solution to regain possession of his body and love himself again.

Finally, there are also women who have opted for reconstruction, but the result is really not aesthetically pleasing. They therefore choose the tattoo to simply improve the situation.

With a mastectomy, you have to mourn your breast. By getting a tattoo instead, you can reclaim this part of the body. The title of my book love each other tattooedbasically sums it all up…

To learn more about the work of the Sœurs d’encre association and to support them, visit their website here. And to discover Nathalie Kaïd’s book, love each other tattooedit is so with Véga editions.

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