Tattoo artists create nipples for cancer survivors

ARLINGTON, Texas (WFAA) -- They've come to this classroom out of compassion. Cosmetic tattoo artists are here to learn a new skill that pierces deeper than any needle can.

It's a topic that can be uncomfortable... even awkward. But what Dixie Medford is teaching these women has the power to restore so much to so many.

"They can help these people to become whole again," she said.

On this morning in Arlington, three women are learning how to tattoo nipples onto the reconstructed breasts of women who've lost their original breasts to cancer.

A specialized form of cosmetic tattooing is meant to give a 3-D illusion that a nipple is there, when it's really not.

The artists practice first on paper, then on plastic models.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer found in Texas women. Statistics show that one in eight women in the U.S. could be afflicted at some point in their life. And the disease can strike men, too.

Medford never thought cancer would be part of her career. The aesthetician was working in a surgeon's office 20 years ago when he asked if she could help with nipple reconstruction for his cancer patients. The procedure was nearly unheard of back then.

"It was like a blind door for me," Medford said. "He opened it, and I walked through it to find all these beautiful, suffering people."

One of those people was Cindy Davis.

"It does affect your self-image; it affects your sex life; it affects your femininity, how you feel as a woman," she said.

The cancer survivor had both breasts removed and reconstructed. There was emotional and physical pain.

"They were there, but they were just like baseballs under your skin," Davis said.

But without nipples, she wasn't comfortable in front of her husband... or even herself.

Then she met Medford, who gave her what she calls "the finishing touch," and it changed everything.

"My husband told me I was wearing out the mirrors!" Davis said. "I was. I was like, 'They look real! They look so real! Look, baby! Look baby!"

Davis was so touched by the procedure, the registered nurse from Grand Prairie learned how to do it, too.

"When you're going through life, you need to kick the rocks out of the path for the people coming behind you," she said.

Kristi Bateman is learning the tattoo technique in honor of her mother. "It can definitely give them more confidence, make them feel more beautiful about themselves," she said.

Bateman wants to help breast cancer survivors in Athens, Texas who may have been suffering in silence for years.

"It kind of gives them back their life a little bit," she said.

That's all Dixie Medford can hope for. While she has tattooed hundreds of people, she's now focusing more on teaching others how to give this cosmetic comfort... and closure... to survivors.

It's a way to leave her mark on as many lives as she can.

"I'm in my 70s," she said. "As my candle goes shorter, it's time to light other candles. And that's what it is: A candle in the darkness."


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