Extraordinary People

Breast cancer survivors reclaim their bodies with realism tattoos

Tanya Buxton is hoping to team up with the NHS

While we say ‘it’s on the inside that counts’, a woman is also defined by their body, their beauty, and the skin that they’re in.  

This innate sense of womanhood is often overlooked when it comes to physical health, and in particular, mastectomies performed to treat breast cancer.

Once the cancer is treated, a survivor is very often discharged from care and left to rebuild their life with shattered self-esteem.

However, one fierce powerhouse is fighting their corner… with her tattoo needle.

[Credit: Tanya Buxton]

Meet Tanya Buxton, a tattooist using her skills to help support breast cancer survivors reclaim their bodies and their confidence after mastectomy surgeries.

Having set up her non-profit Mastectomy Tattooing Alliance [MTA], she now performs beautiful work on women to cover or complement scars with her inkings.

We caught up with Tanya to find out a little more about her incredible work and why she believes her services are vital to those in need.

Tanya said: “I started out as a traditional tattoo artist in 2009 and worked on many scar cover-up tattoos and mastectomy tattoos over the years, so I have always been interested in the healing and empowering aspect of tattooing.

“Six years later, I progressed into cosmetic and medical tattooing, expanding my skills and opening me up to a whole new world of people who can benefit from tattooing.”

[Credit: Tanya Buxton]

Tanya continued: “I have seen first-hand the impact tattoos have, from decorating a scar with a beautiful piece of art to recreating a realistic 3D nipple after surgery.

“Tattoos can help heal a person inside and out, they can mark a milestone moment, symbolise a new beginning, or celebrate cherished memories in a person’s life; they enable people to reclaim their bodies and transform their skin into something they love, helping them to move forward, build self-esteem and boost body confidence.”

Fast-forward to today, and Tanya is continuing on her mission to show how medical tattoos can play a vital role in physical and emotional healing after breast cancer.

In particular, areola tattoos ­– which give the illusion of a 3D nipple ­– are truly life-changing as they help mark the end of a breast cancer journey.

[Credit: Tanya Buxton]

These tattoos are also a great option for people who have gender reassignment surgery or breast surgery where the nipple has been lost or compromised.

Tanya not only wants to help locals near her Cheltenham studio in Gloucestershire, but globally too as she hopes the MTA can work alongside healthcare professionals.

The ink whizz explained: “With such a demand for these life-changing tattoos, hospital waiting lists can be extremely long, preventing women from being able to fully move on from their breast cancer.

“This is something the tattoo industry and the MTA can help with. Ultimately, I’d like to grow to become a global organisation of talented artists and ample funding so we take the pressure off hospitals providing these tattoos as they require expensive equipment, time and manpower.”

[Credit: Tanya Buxton]

Currently, information about this wonderful service is scarce, with many women unaware of the options available to them after surgeries and treatments.

While some hospitals do provide areola tattoo services for survivors, the lack of funding and education means it is often carried out by NHS or medical staff, who more often than not, have received minimal training in this specialised field.

Tanya conclued: “Whilst done with the best intention, these tattoos are often of poor quality and do not heal well in the skin. This is devastating for the client and can have a huge impact on their body confidence and mental wellbeing.

“Most areola tattoos performed in hospitals are tattooed with semi-permanent pigment, meaning regular top up appointments are required year after year.”

She added: “Tattooing the skin repeatedly like this is not only incredibly damaging to the skin but can also be emotionally traumatic for the client too.”

This is exactly what lights the fire in Tanya’s belly to campaign for the medical industry and tattoo industry to unite, so that healthcare professionals can understand how to help their patients heal not only physically but mentally too.

For more info, click here: Tanya Buxton.

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