Tattoos empower breast cancer survivors

Tattoos empower breast cancer survivors

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS 11)--When a woman fights to beat breast cancer a lot of times a part of them ends up missing.

They feel robbed or incomplete, but these same women are feeling whole again through a local tattoo artist who's giving back a small piece of them.

Tattoo artist and owner of The Hornet's Nest, Billy Noel, started working with breast cancer survivors several years ago.

He creates realistic nipple tattoos or chest pieces for women who have had double mastectomies. He also tattoos eyebrows for women who've gone through chemotherapy.

This summer P.J. Hill went to see Noel on the recommendation of her granddaughter. Chemotherapy for Hill's breast cancer faded her eyebrows.

"This can bring you back to a comfortable part of what you're going through. Cancer is not fun. It's not easy," Hill said.

This wasn't P.J. Hill's first tattoo, but it was the most important.

"I needed the eyebrows to define me," Hill said.

Noel uses several shades of ink to recreate skin tones and hair.

"It's like an emotional roller coaster you have to go through because they come in smiling and they leave crying, but in joy," Noel said.

He's helped more than 60 women since 2012 in similar positions.

"We use some standard tattooing machines to get it started. Then we use what they call a rotary to do a lot of the fill-in which is a more quieter type of machine," Noel said.

Noel drew his first set of nipple tattoos for Kristy Delaney.

"It was the most emotional tattoo that I have had done. There were tears from me tears from billy you know there were tears from the other tattoo guys in the studio. I mean it was an amazing journey to get to that point," Delaney said.    

To prevent a reoccurrence of breast cancer, Delaney had a double mastectomy in April of 2011.

"You feel such a loss of who you are especially as a woman," Delaney said.

Delaney describes it as just a mound of skin on her chest, nothing to look at. She asked Noel if he could change that. Delaney started out with 3D nipple tattoos but then kept building creating a chest piece.


"Because I am kinda a tattoo girl, it made it feel even more like me

Complete with the words,  " I am the toughest girl I know".

"Even though it is a new you, and you know that every time you see yourself, it's just at a glance when you catch that glimpse in the mirror that it looks normal again as normal as it can and it is amazing," Delaney.

A reaction Noel says he see's with every survivor.

"It means the world to me. It gives me back a sense of why I do this," Noel said.

Hill's eyebrows took out about two hours. She tells me she appreciates them more each day.

Her advice, know its okay, to get a tattoo.

"Seek out your best feeling in a tattoo shop, talk to the person who's doing it, and interview them," Hill said.

Because putting ink in place of what you've lost can only help make it better.

"Its hard and its a long road and there's a lot of us who have fought and continue to fight, but it does get better and they'll feel whole again. They will," Delaney said.

Through word of mouth from these women, Noel is now getting about 3 calls a week. He says, to his knowledge, he's the only one in the area doing this type of work.

Louisville's Susan G Komen Office says they only know of Bleed Blue Tattoos in Lexington doing something similar. Noel eventually wants to open a tattoo shop specifically for cancer survivors and those with scars.

He charges $250 abreast. Online I've seen services range from $400 to more than a $1000 when you add touch-up appointments. Insurance coverage is possible but it depends on the employer or insurance. Noel says none of the women he's worked on had costs covered by insurance.

As for pain, women tell us they've lost sensation in their chest area so it really doesn't hurt, but of course, that's not the case for Hill's eyebrows. She said it stung, but was well worth it.

If you're interested in getting these types of tattoos you can contact The Hornet's Nest for more information.
 

© 2017 WHAS-TV


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