Tattoo artists replace what cancer has stolen

Having a mastectomy or other surgery to treat breast cancer can be a demoralizing experience for women, but one Boulder man has come up with a way to help them empower themselves.

Noel Franus first got the idea when his sister-in-law, Molly, told the family that after the double mastectomy she was about to have, she was going to do something more than just have her nipples tattooed onto her breasts.

“She was surprised to discover that she wouldn’t be getting her nipples back after the procedure,” Franus said. “She felt that what the doctor was offering wasn’t going to look authentic, so she wanted something that was a little more empowering. She said, ‘If I can’t have what I had before, why not rethink what should be there in the first place.’”

Franus said Molly “wasn’t a tattoo person at all,” but decided to have something that was more “expressive.”

That incident got Franus thinking: What if someone offered this for other breast cancer surgery survivors?

That was three years ago.

Since then, Franus’ effort, called P.Ink, took off.

After getting the word out to survivors through the social media site, Pinterest, Franus recruited numerous talented tattoo artists in several cities to help him come up with design possibilities for women to consider.

While every woman’s tattoo will be different depending on what is done, and what scars are left as a result, Franus said more than 165 women have undergone the procedure through P.Ink artists in about 20 cities, including Grand Junction.

Franus said it’s not unusual for women to have nipples tattooed on after surgery, adding that even some insurance companies will cover it as long as they aren’t “decorative.”

“Molly wrote to ask everybody for ideas,” he said. “She was thinking monograms or bottle caps. Her joke was headlights because she was accused of always having hers on anyway.”

Some of the designs that have been used have gone beyond just something to take the place of a nipple, but body art that is designed to take the focus off of the lack of one and any visible scars.

“We built a platform that provided more design ideas to breast cancer survivors who’ve had a mastectomy to make it accessible at a cultural level, and to allow women to give themselves permission to do this,” he said. “We then identified the very few artists who are skilled with this kind of practice.”

Franus said not every tattoo artist is practiced enough to deal with damaged skin, saying skin that has been exposed to radiation treatment is more sensitive and doesn’t always take in ink as normal skin would.

After three years of doing all this, Franus has identified numerous artists at tattoo shops around the country, including Raw Canvas Tattoo Studio and Art Gallery, 507 Main St., in Grand Junction.

For more information or to get design ideas, go to


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