Tattooing for a Cause: The Finishing Touch that Heals

In recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here is IAW Member Tara Dunsmore’s inspirational story of survival & triumph.

Tara Dunsmore’s story is an all-too-familiar one. After all, according to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, a woman in the US is diagnosed with breast cancer every two minutes. But it is her journey from breast cancer survivor to someone who offers other women like her the finishing touch they need to feel whole again that captured our attention. And it’s a story we wanted to share with you.

“I never thought I would get breast cancer. I am a Nurse. I have no family history,” says Ms. Dunsmore, a mother of three living in Raleigh, NC. “I was diagnosed in 2012. I had a lumpectomy and a double mastectomy, and then immediate reconstructive surgery that included tissue expanders.”

After months of reconstructive surgeries and appointments that included “fill ups,” Ms. Dunsmore’s plastic surgeon talked to her about nipple reconstruction, something she had not given much thought to. When he mentioned the option of “areola tattooing,” she was floored.

“I had never heard of nipple tattooing but it was an option I wanted to explore,” recalls Ms. Dunsmore. “I asked my doctor to recommend a local expert but he didn’t have anyone to refer me to other than a nurse in his office who had received limited training.”

After doing her own research, Ms. Dunsmore did find a tattoo artist in Maryland, one who was an expert in areola tattooing. But she didn’t want this very personal procedure done by a man in a tattoo parlor. “I didn’t want that to be the final chapter of my journey,” she said.

Ultimately deciding to have the tattoo done by the nurse, Ms. Dunsmore was disappointed in the technique due to the limited options when it came to size and color. “I had only three color choices: bubble gum pink, chocolate brown or nude,” she recalls. Not long after her own procedure in March 2013, she made the decision to become trained as a Certified Areola Tattoo Artist so she could provide other breast cancer survivors with the results they deserved. She hasn’t looked back since.

“I received intense, one-on-one training from a master. It all came natural to me; I just knew what I was doing,” she says. In April of 2014, Ms. Dunsmore founded Pink Ink Tattoo LLCC, where she combines her new-found skills as a Certified Areola Tattoo Artist and her medical knowledge as a Nurse with her very personal experience as a breast cancer survivor.

When she informed her plastic surgeon of her training, he generously offered her the use of his office, Davis Plastic Surgery in Raleigh, NC, to see patients. There, clients come to her from all over the state, as well as from outside of North Carolina. Ms. Dunsmore also travels to other plastic surgeons’ offices throughout the state to provide post-mastectomy women with realistic-looking, 3-D nipple tattooing, as well as scar camouflage and other techniques. ”I free-hand everything, the areola and the 3-D nipple, allowing clients to decide what size they desire,” she says.

Often, says Ms. Dunsmore, breast cancer survivors are so grateful to be alive they feel as if they shouldn’t ‘complain’ about not having nipples. “I had one patient who came to me 17 years after her mastectomy!” she recalls. “Some feel they just want to move forward. But these women deserve to feel complete.” She is thrilled to be able to offer patients what she refers to as “their final touch,” and help bring their difficult and emotional journeys to a close.

Ms. Dunsmore, who also still practices as a Nurse, says the tattooing procedure usually takes about two hours. The patient is awake, and together, they discuss the details of the tattoo. She carefully mixes the precise color they want and patients can choose from a variety of shapes. There is not much pain involved, says Ms. Dunsmore. She sends her patients home with an after-care kit that includes sterile bandages and ointments, etc. Many insurance companies cover the procedure, she adds.

As one of the very few areola tattoo specialists in the country, Ms. Dunsmore plans to make her services available to even more women. “I hope to travel to other states and bring my services to more breast cancer survivors,” she says. “I want women to travel to me and me to them to have a different experience, an emotional, sister-like bond because this is about surviving something that tried to kill us. The last step in the reconstruction process should be a wonderful, meaningful experience.”

Committed to giving back to her community, Ms. Dunsmore is involved in a number of fundraising events throughout the year and recently provided her services at no charge to three women who wouldn’t have been able to afford areola tattooing.

“This is definitely a passion not a business or service, that’s how I feel about Pink Ink Tattoo and why I love doing this. It’s so personal,” says Ms. Dunsmore. “It’s also bittersweet. I’m happy to hear of someone who needs my help but that also means there’s one more woman who has this dreadful disease.”

We want to hear from you! Are you a breast cancer survivor? What has your journey been like? What advice do you have for other women dealing with breast cancer?

    • Susan

      She’s a true blessing!! I’ve heard about this and wish there was someone here in So Cal that did it! I had my reconstruction about 3 years ago, but never did nipples because I didn’t like any of the surgical options. If anyone knows of someone maybe in the Greater Los Angeles area, please share! 🙂

      • Tara Dunsmore

        Thank you Susan! If you email me your plastic surgeons name and office I will contact them and possible come to CA. or you could always take a mini- vacation 😉 Take care, Tara

    • Tanya Hairston

      I also thought that this was an incredible story! Unfortunately Ms. Dunsmore’s service was borne out of necessity from the devastating effects of breast cancer, but out of the ashes came new life! The service she offers has and will continue to change/improve so many lives! This is truly an unselfish act! I’ve never personally been touched by breast cancer, nor anyone close to me, therefore can only marginally imagine what it’s like. May Jehovah God’s blessings be with Ms. Dunsmore and all those who are in need of her services. Tanya Hairston

      • Tara Dunsmore

        Tayna, I literally have tears! Thank you for your kind words! I do feel blessed to be able to help my fellow survivors. This is truly a passion and my purpose, my answer to “why me”.

  1. George Williamson

    Wow!! What she does is amazing. She truly cares for other survivors. A nurse, breast cancer survivor, and one of the best areola tattoo artist that I have ever seen.

  2. Denise Stewart

    The total rehabilitation and recovery of women who survive breast cancer requires, a team approach and Tara mad e this happen with the help of many people, especially a lateral thinking doctor. Great story for Tara and other women.

    • Tara Dunsmore

      Thank you Denise! Yes, I knew when I went through my areola tattoo experience I was determined to give other survivors a better, more realistic looking areola tattoo. I am blessed to have a plastic surgeon who, from the beginning when I said to him, ” I am going to train with the best in the world and come back to offer my services to all survivors” He supported me 100% offering his office to me and cheering me on unconditionally.

  3. Jennifer

    Can you tattoo on top of scar tissue, and on a woman with a mastectomy that wasn’t a candidate for reconstructive surgery?

  4. Pamela

    I survived breast cancer 23 years ago. I had reconstructive surgery many years after my mastectomy — I just couldn’t face another medical procedure after my treatment and 23 years ago reconstruction at the time of the mastectomy wasn’t a common practice. It’s hard to describe the feeling of looking in a mirror and feeling whole again. Although is sounds like Ms. Dunsmore is more skilled at her craft than the doctor who did my tattoo — it’s never really been right. I’d love to have an opportunity to take advantage of such a committed artist’s work.

    • Tara Dunsmore

      Pamela I would be Honored to help you!! With only a couple of “expert” areola tattoo artist in the country Plastic surgeons were left to do the finishing touch themselves or have their office nurse do them, a basic circle and color. To me that was unacceptable and that is why I founded Pink Ink Tattoo, to offer areola complex & 3 Dimensional Nipples to all survivors. We have been through o much we deserve the “Best” If you want to contact me I would love to help you out or answwer any questions you may have. 919-592-5580 Take care, Tara

  5. Stacy

    Very inspirational, not just for breast cancer survivors but for everyone! If we would all go the extra mile….

  6. Heather B

    This article is so beautiful. Unfortunately, so many people have to experience hard times, but it was that experience that made Tara find her calling. You are inspiring and I know others will be inspired by you.

  7. Debbie

    I am a breast cancer survivor, also diagnosed in 2012. I had a lumpectomy and decided the minute the doctor told me I had cancer I was not going to let it get me down! I went through surgery, two nasty rounds of chemo and 9 weeks of radiation and missed only 7 days of work! I felt if I didn’t go to work … cancer was winning and I just couldn’t let that happen! For my 60th birthday last year, I got a tattoo of a butterfly – the body is the breast cancer ribbon! It’s a beautiful tattoo that symbolizes so much to me! I am now a healthy and happy lady experiencing the joys of being a first time grandmother! Thank you to people like Tara Dunsmore, who make the breast cancer journey a little more bearable. That’s our jobs as survivors … because until they find a cure, it’s all we can do!

    • Tara Dunsmore

      Your correct Margie. He does beautiful work. I however, wanted to offer survivor’s another option, areola complex, 3D nipple tattoos done in a plastic surgeons office by me, a Women, Breast Cancer survivor, Nurse and Certified Areola, 3D nipple tattoo artist. I use completely different inks/pigments and equipment. I specifically use pigment created for breast cancer survivors which is MRI safe. I wish I had more options when I went through my experience.

  8. Sandi Coone

    As a 17 year breast cancer survivor myself I appreciate this very much. I have had multiple surgeries and changed plastic surgeons. My second surgeon trying hard to “fix” issues from the first. As a young single woman of 53 it is still important to me to put my best boob forward so to speak and though I have had the tattooing done twice now. First time did not hold and second time is questionable on the scar tissue, I am glad someone out there is doing it right and with compassion and understanding. Thank you.

  9. Ashley

    This is great. I have expanders right now, and will be having the exchange surgery in a few weeks. I live in NC, and follow the “Pink” program she’s a part of, but have disappointed to see that there weren’t many folks that offer this sort of thing in NC. I had no idea there was such a thing as “scar camoflauge” either. I am very interested in talking to her about that. So excited that she’s close by!

  10. Barbara Nagle

    My sister had died from breast cancer at the age of 46. My mom was then diagnosed. I was caring for her when I found the lump….on both sides…… Hardest thing I’ve done in my life was to tell my parents. My mom passed as well. So I live with a little survivors guilt. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have known what to do and I probably would not be here today. Doubles for all of us. One word of advice. Always get the implants. Mine didn’t like my body and popped like balloons at different times. Houston, we have a problem, but even if they don’t work out at least you have something. The scar is less noticeable and if you use enough ducktape you can have a slight amount of cleavage! One thing I have never understood for those with doubles. It changes your body structure. The chest muscles and back muscles need some retraining. Lingering side affects from the chemo. Weak legs, etc. But the high point of it all? It completely changes how you appreciate things in life. The little things you wouldn’t even notice before become precious to you. Songs sound better. Nature is even more beautiful. You appreciate time and don’t waste it as much. There is an excitement for life because you have escaped something you are just not prepared for. Your family appreciates you a little more as well. I am not one to wear pink. I am not going to climb Mt. Everest to prove I can still breathe. I am not running a marathon with a pink hat on. I’m also not wearing a bra anymore.
    After a marriage of 25 years, it sort of broke the camel’s back and we divorced. I spent a long time trying to find myself (or the parts of my body that were missing). And now at the age of 65 I met a man 12 years younger than me who loves me just for me. It just doesn’t bother him. Life is so exciting. I feel like I’m 16 again. I never thought it would happen so don’t give up hope….ever……. because you just never know what’s around the corner. And there are men like mine who can overlook the flaws and appreciate the leftovers! And not just at mealtime!

    • Tara Dunsmore

      Barbara you sound like a strong women! God Bless you! We never know how much we can handle until we are faced with it. You are absolutely right, Never give up and Never give up hope! XO

  11. Amy

    Such a beautiful story of inspiration and hope. Thank you, for making a difference in the lives of women facing breast cancer.

  12. Lolita Nettles

    Many women in my family have seen breast cancer, my mother is a lucky one and has survived. I think this is wonderful what you are doing. That ability to not only overcome your own trail through fire of this evil but to gift other women a sense of self is a blessing.

    • Tara Dunsmore

      Thank you Lolita! Breast cancer is evil and it can break you. I hate it with every fiber but through that nasty disease it made me find my purpose, my calling and showed me how to overcome hardship so that I can now help others.

  13. Jodie Lin

    My story is very similar to Ms. Dunsmore. In 2011 I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer at a young age with no family history. I was a fit vegetarian with 5 children whom I had all nursed. I never thought I would get this horrible disease. I had a lumpectomy followed by a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction and fillings. I had radiation as well. When we revisited the topic nipple reconstruction, it was no longer an option. My remaining ski was too thin and the radiation made it too tight. 3D tattooing was my only option. I was hesitant at the idea of getting tattoos in a tattoo parlor by a male so I put it off. I looked for someone else who could do it but the one nurse I found never returned my calls. I took that as a bad sign. Since I had 4 girls, I thought it would be best to get the tattooing so I could look as normal as possible for them in case they ever walked in on me. I did go to the male
    Tattoo artist in Md who is very well known for this. He was very professional and the parlor was very clean and nice and very discreet. He did a fantastic job and my first words were “you never really know what your missing until you get it”. I felt whole again. I am proud of my battle scars but I like looking my new normal. I am happy to say that I am almost 5 years out now! I now examine food and how it could have caused me to have breast cancer and hope to work with others to clean up their diets to hopefully never have to be told they have cancer and go through what I went through.

    • Tara Dunsmore

      Congratulations Jodie on 5 years! I am also very aware of what I put in/on my body as well. Its crazy when you start really reading ingredients of not only food but products period. Feeling whole is what we deserve and what I am blessed to be able to offer our fellow survivors. Hugs to you!

  14. Mara

    Tara – you really are amazing. I wish that I could find a way to combine my work with the ability to help other BC survivors. I’m actually about to undergo tattooing in a few weeks and I’m very excited. It’s so difficult to go through all this appearance altering (for the worse) that accompanies the treatment for this terrible disease that we cannot underestimate the transformative power of anything that helps us feel prettier, sexier and more in control, particularly for young women (like me, diagnosed at 38) who are stopped in their tracks by all this nonsense. Once I’m done with tattooing my new perky and symmetrical boobs, I can focus on all my menopause related complaints. But enough about me, you are a blessing to the women that you help and it’s great that you’re getting the information out to women who were unaware that this step in the reconstruction process is out there.

Comments are closed.

Accessibility Toolbar