A Message from Tara:
I was 39 years old when they told me I had breast cancer. Surely, they had me confused with someone else. I had no family history, and I felt healthy.
When the biopsy results came in positive, dread immediately took over my body. I was in complete shock. It made no sense. My heart was beating out of my chest. As a nurse, I grabbed every medical book I owned, reading chapter after chapter, researching online and spending every second praying and talking with my family. The choice for my treatment was clear: bilateral mastectomy and, if possible, immediate reconstruction. I wanted these toxic breasts off and I wanted to live. I wanted to be aggressive, to feel like I had some control of my body.
As I prepared for surgery, my life suddenly took a turn for the worse. Two days before my surgery, my surgeon called to reschedule because of insurance issues. I was devastated. I cried for hours to only to receive more horrific news – my dad was dying. Without a second thought, I rushed to be by his side. A few days later, he passed away on his 62nd birthday. My life was completely turned upside down.
While I was driving to North Carolina to plan my father’s funeral, my breast surgeon called again with a new plan. I can remember her saying: “Let’s do a lumpectomy to get it out. We’ll reschedule the bilateral surgery for a different date.” Once again, I felt helpless and powerless over my body, but with no other alternatives, we decided to move forward.
After my surgery, I woke up in the recovery room to find they had implanted rods for radiation. During the post-op, my doctors relayed the full story. During surgery, they found the cancer had advanced – invasive ductal carcinoma, high grade. After an intense conversation with my doctor about my body, my life, my choice, we scheduled a date for the bilateral mastectomy, a complete removal of both breasts including the nipples.
Months after a successful surgery, my plastic surgeon talked to me about areola 3D tattooing. This is a special artistic process for women who have had a mastectomy followed by breast reconstruction surgery. Sometimes women opt to have a nipple tattooed on their breast to feel more comfortable in their bodies – to get back a little of what they lost.
After months of searching for an expert (no one was located in my state), we finally found a professional who specialized in this area. During my consultation, there were only three options to choose from: chocolate brown, bubble gum pink, or nude. I couldn’t believe it. After everything cancer survivors go through, they 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 decided to train with the best areola tattoo instructor to make realistic, 3D-looking tattoos to give the impression of texture and dimension. As a formally trained nurse, I traded one needle for another. Holding my tattoo pin, I knew this was my purpose, my gift, my answer to “why me.” I found 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 now expanded to three states in the US. I travel to reach survivors who may not be able to reach me, working along side many wonderful plastic surgeons. I give back every chance I get to other women hurting just like I was. Today, I have the opportunity to give survivors that finishing touch to the long, emotional journey of breast cancer, restore their confidence, and help them feel whole again.
I’ve learned that the second act of your life can be far more important than your first. 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 television producer for a show featuring cancer patients, and a certified 3D areola tattoo artist. Most of all, I am a survivor. And today, I wouldn’t trade my life for any other journey. I am right where I belong – I’m living my second act.