Being given a devastating diagnoses doesn't have to mean your life is over. My story shows how I took a terrible experience and changed my life physically, mentally and professionally. I am honored to work with many wonderful plastic surgeons across North Carolina, Mississippi and Texas helping my fellow survivors feel whole again.
My name is Tara Dunsmore, I am a five-year breast cancer survivor, nurse and certified areola tattoo artist.
I founded Pink Ink Tattoo in April 2014, located in Raleigh, NC after my own personal struggle with post-mastectomy tattoo artists. I wanted all survivors to have an opportunity to have a choice and options for a more realistic looking areola, 3-D nipple tattoo. I work with many plastic surgeons across America and have been nationally recognized and honored to have had the opportunity to help produce and be part of a live stage show featuring 10 women cancer survivors which aired in over 142 country's August of 2016. Most recently, I have had the honor of being interviewed and featured in the Oprah Winfrey, O Magazine October 2017 edition.
Finding My Gift Through My Breast Cancer Journey
I was 39 years old when I found out that I had breast cancer. “Surely, they had me confused with someone else,” I thought. I had no family history; I couldn't feel any lumps.
The biopsy results came in — positive. Dread immediately took over my body, and I was in complete shock. It made no sense. My heart was beating out of chest. As a nurse, I knew what that report was stating, so I grabbed every medical book I had, reading chapter after chapter, researching online and spending every second praying and talking with my family about the right treatment path for me. The choice was clear: bilateral mastectomy and if possible immediate reconstruction. I wanted those toxic breasts off and I wanted to live. I wanted to be aggressive, to feel like I had some control of my body.
A trip to the plastic surgeon's office and then surgery — that’s what I thought, but God's timing wasn't going along with mine. The morning of March 13, 2012 two days before my surgery, the breast surgeon called to reschedule because of insurance issues. I was devastated. I cried for hours only to receive more horrific news: my dad who lived over 500 miles away from me was dying. I rushed to be by his side, but sadly he passed away on March 16, his 62nd birthday.
Driving back to North Carolina to plan my father's funeral, my breast surgeon called again with a new plan. "Let's do a lumpectomy to get it out. We'll reschedule the bilateral surgery for a different date."
I felt helpless and powerless over my body. On March 29, 2012, I woke up in the recovery room to find she had implanted rods for radiation. I couldn't believe what was happening. During the post op., I got the story. The cancer had advanced and was high-grade invasive ductal carcinoma. After an intense conversation with my breast surgeon about my body, my life and my choice, we scheduled a date for the bilateral mastectomy.
Months later, my plastic surgeon talked to me about areola, 3D tattooing, which is a special artistic process for women who lost their breast to cancer. We searched for months looking for an expert artist, but sadly there was no one in my state. Giving up, I decided to have this procedure done by someone who did the best she could, just not what I thought we survivors deserved. She gave me three options: chocolate brown, bubble gum pink or nude. I almost fell out of the chair — are you kidding me? This is my last hooray? Survivors deserve more! Survivors deserve the best. Therefore, I deserved the best.
That's when my life changed.
Feeling my own pain, I made a decision. I was going to train with the best areola tattoo instructor. Yep, formally trained as a nurse, I traded one needle for another. When they handed me that tattoo pin, I knew this was my purpose, my gift and my answer to "why me." God had a higher meaning for my life and I was ready to live it. In April 2014, I founded Pink Ink Tattoo.
Pink Ink Tattoo has expanded, and is now in four states. I travel to reach survivors who may not be able to reach me, working alongside many wonderful plastic surgeons. The power of survivorship starts within ourselves. I give back every chance I get, and I give to other women who are hurting like I was. Today, I have the opportunity to give survivors that finishing touch to the long, emotional journey of breast cancer, restoring their confidence and helping them feel whole again.
The most amazing thing throughout this journey is that I have learned that the second act of your life can be far more important than your first, but it has to be up to you. I'm a nurse, a mom of three beautiful children, a wife, a kidney donor to my sister (yes, I donated my kidney along the way), a Certified 3D areola tattoo artist and I even helped produce a television show featuring female cancer survivors. Most of all, I am a survivor. And today, I wouldn't trade my life for any other road I could have chosen to travel. I am right where I belong.
I believe this type of procedure has come a long way and is being talked about more than ever before. More tattoo artist and permanent make up practitioners are also starting to offer this type of service. However, my advice to my fellow survivor about areola tattooing would be: Do your research on the artist — are they a specialist? Are they medically licensed? Can they recognize signs and symptoms of an infection? What type of ink do they use? Is it MRI safe? Will your insurance cover the cost?
These questions are extremely important because as a nurse and a survivor, I understand how tattooing may affect future scans or test.