Mastectomy Tattoos: An Artist Changes The Lives Of Breast Cancer Survivors

How do you help a woman who has crossed swords with death? What can you possibly contribute? Those were the questions graphic designer, painter and tattoo artist David Allen asked himself before meeting his first mastectomy client who had bravely battled cancer and won. She approached Allen, who works at Pioneer Tattoo in Chicago because she wanted to conceal scarring on her breast. “As interested as I was, I had no idea the weight of what was to come,” says Allen.

That weight was the pressure Allen felt to create something that would change his client’s life.  Allen says he will never forget this first transformative collaboration.

“You spend years just doing your craft, so to see it become a vehicle for help, change, and hope…well, that’s hard to wrap your head around. My first mastectomy client believed in me, so there was no other option but to try. She was there and vulnerable, ready and willing to trust my view. Together we created a work of art. Her scar was concealed, but more importantly, she took back control. What was clinical became beautiful again. We turned sterile into sensual.”

Since that time, Allen has done numerous mastectomy tattoos on women whose ages span from 31 to 66.  The tattoos range in price from $850 to $2500, and the process from beginning to end can take several hours and multiple visits.

“We design and layout the piece together. That can take up to two hours. Then, depending on the complexity of the tattoo and actual scarring, the tattoo can take anywhere from two to six hours. Often they’ll come back in a month or so for a second session to fine tune and to finish if they had a difficult time with the pain. I ask them what types of flowers or arrangements they like; then I sketch. We bring the pictures of their body into Photoshop and I overlay floral illustrations onto the scars. They can get a close semblance to what the tattoo will look like before they decide to run with it.”

Allen admits the process can be very emotional for his clients, and he helps guide them through with a gentle air of strength and compassion.

“My job is to be neutral and listen. Then to translate what they want into a final product that compliments their shape. Listening to their stories and view helps me imagine and understand the complexities of what they’ve faced. I’ll never walk in their shoes, but I can step back, and I can empathize. In doing so, we form a connection. It’s beautiful. My role is to help them take back some control. It’s overwhelming to see the nervousness transform into resolve then ultimately joy. It’s stunning.”

Now with women flying in from across the country for his mastectomy tattoos, Allen says his clients give him perspective and constant inspiration. “It’s hard not reassess your outlook when you get to see glimpses into their lives and struggles.
I’ve never seen such strength and so much resilience. Their stories are unique, but the underlying aspect is love and survival.”  The most difficult part for Allen is when one of his clients has a reoccurrence of breast cancer or when someone has waited months to receive their tattoo and they can’t because another surgery or complication comes up. “It’s heartbreaking, but part of the process,” he says.

Allen connects with his clients and feels that the work he does with these incredible survivors has been life-changing for him as well.

“Personally, it’s hard to articulate how much I get from this. The process is complicated and it requires trust and vulnerability on both sides but to be able to use your talent and craft to help someone is an honor. There is healing in this.”


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  • Anonymous says:

    Such a powerful post! THANK YOU David for using your incredible talent to make a difference in peoples lives. Bravo!

  • Stella Flame says:

    Whoa! What an incredible idea✨💕✨

  • S says:

    I cannot get the first image in this post out of my mind. I’ve just been diagnosed with an early stage breast cancer and these beautiful images give me so much hope. Thank you for your art and compassion. You’re not only helping your direct clients…

    • GLAM4GOOD says:

      We are so glad to hear this post gives you hope. THANK YOU for your inspired comment. We are sending you tons of love and positive energy and so happy you caught your breast cancer early. We have worked with many survivors and early detection is critical to beat this disease. Hang in there and come visit the site we are here for the incredible YOU! xGLAM4GOOD

  • Deborah says:

    I had a double mastectomy, 14 years ago which turned out horrible. I just did my 4th and last reconstruction surgery, I never ever looked at myself in the mirror and now when I look at the beauty of your art work, it gives me hope. Your work as an artist is breathtaking, the fine delicate lines are amazing. I can’t wait to find a artist in my area who can help me. When you go thru something so traumatic and your alone as a women we know we are judged by are appearances. But now my artwork will be my beauty. Thank you for giving women like me our lives back.

  • Gloria Colgan says:

    Thank you for your wonderful, hopeful article. I lived way too large for my farms so I had an initial reduction when the cancer and lymph nodes were removed and another reduction and repair a year later. I have lots of scars and things don’t ‘line up or match’. Your portrayal of asymmetric ink makes me think it’s possible to keep the eyes from seeing how different they look and only see the beauty! Wish I could work with David, but I’m happy just to know what I want and need is possible!

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