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Meet the family of tattoo artists helping breast cancer survivors feel whole again

Meet the family of tattoo artists helping breast cancer survivors feel whole again

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For many breast cancer survivors, their journey is filled with doctor's appointments and surgeries.

That's why those who walk through the doors of Little Vinnie's Tattoos in Finksburg, Maryland, are often relieved to be in a less clinical setting.

Like so many others, for breast cancer survivor, Edie, her trip to Little Vinnie's marked the end of her journey. She traveled from Pennsylvania to have Anna Meyers tattoo her areolas and nipples after having reconstructive surgery.

Anna is the 23-year-old daughter of the shop's owner, Vinnie Meyers, who is somewhat of a legend in breast cancer survivor circles.

After graduating from Towson University with a degree in art and design, Anna decided to follow in her father's footsteps and began learning how to tattoo areolas and nipples.

"Art in general can be really rewarding, but there’s a different aspect to this that’s extra rewarding because you’re completing that breast cancer journey for so many women," Anna Meyers explained.

Anna said that because she grew up in a tattoo shop environment and enjoyed learning from her dad, this was just a natural next step.

"She was able to sit here with me everyday and see every client that came in the door and get a real good understanding of what can be done on what type of skin, on what type of reconstruction," Vinnie Meyers said.

He said with Anna on board, the shop is able to reach more breast cancer survivors than before. For some survivors, Vinnie explained, this final step is a very personal one so they only want to be seen by another female. Before Anna joined the team, Little Vinnie's Tattoos didn't have any female tattoo artists who specialized in areola and nipple tattoos.

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"So by bringing Anna on board, it opened the door for that demographic that we wouldn't normally see," Vinnie Meyers explained. "Now, they can come and have it done by Anna."

According the BreastCancer.org, one in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.

Which means tattoo shops like Little Vinnie's, that specialize in this type of tattoo, are always busy. Vinnie Meyers said they tattoo between 1,000 and 1,500 women a year.

"The more people we get on board and the more people that want to commit their time to this, the more we’ll be able to do," he added.

Each tattoo takes between an hour and two hours to complete, depending on how long it takes to pick placement and find a natural color for the patient.

"The more people we get on board and the more people that want to commit their time to this, the more we’ll be able to do."
Vinnie Meyers

Anna Meyers added that the price for these three-dimensional tattoos can range from a couple hundred dollars to $800. That's why the Meyers family just started a non-profit, the Vinnie Meyer's Pink Ink Project, to help those who can't necessarily afford it.

Breast cancer survivors have to wait five months post-op before having their tattoos completed at Little Vinnie's.

"What we do is permanent and it can’t be moved," Vinnie Meyers explained. "So we want the breast shape to be what it is, we want them to be satisfied with that, have everything done so when they come to us, we finalize things."

And finalizing means taking several things into consideration.

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Anna Meyers explained that she looks at the patient's reconstruction, decides placement based on what looks the most symmetrical and then picks a color based on that person's skin tone.

"Every reconstruction is very unique," Anna Meyers said. "Everyone has a different kind of reconstruction, different scar patterns, and so, the tattooing is unique to each individual person because of that."

For breast cancer survivors who are considering this type of tattoo, Vinnie Meyers said it's important to do plenty of research before choosing an artist.

"Tattooing regular skin is one thing; tattooing a reconstructed breast is a completely different thing," Vinnie Meyers said. "If it’s not done well, not only can you damage the reconstruction and put the health of the client in jeopardy, but it can’t always be fixed."

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