World Cancer Day is Thursday February 4th, and to commemorate this year, we wanted to speak to some of those throughout our industry who are truly making a difference in the lives of their clients touched by cancer.
First up is Cat Armstrong, Clinic Director at LUSH Skin & Laser Clinic, who has always been deeply moved by her clients’ stories of courage and strength and determination to fight. “Many of my clients have been touched by breast cancer either having been diagnosed themselves or having family members diagnosed,” says Cat. “Our clients are more than clients; we have established strong relationships with them over the years and these are based on trust. When we are treating our clients in our rooms and connected by touch we find that they feel safe with us and this is when they entrust us with their stories of survival against breast cancer diagnosis.” The team at LUSH often see clients who have been treated for breast cancer, wishing to have their radiation tattoos removed.
Before having breast cancer radiation, treatment tattoo skin markings are placed on the skin of the treatment site, which play an important role in ensuring that the radiation therapist can position the patient correctly in the radiation machine and deliver the treatment precisely where it is required. These are commonly applied with a small handheld medical machine, unlike a traditional tattoo machine which uses an electric reverberating needle. “The treatment is very quick and only takes a matter of minutes, but the removal process itself requires 6-8 weeks between treatments,” Cat tells us. “Clients are completely overwhelmed by emotion when they become aware that the tattoos markers can be removed. For some women, these markings are in a visible location of the breast which can make them feel self-conscious whilst for some women they simply don’t want to be reminded about their cancer and treatment. We have received so much incredible feedback with many expressing how lovely a gesture it is however we see it as a small gift we can give to these incredible women. The latest laser technology has allowed for more efficient tattoo removal with fewer side effects and safe removal. Before commencing any laser treatments a client’s oncologist must determine removal will be safe and won’t compromise any future treatment. At LUSH Skin & Laser Clinic our laser tattoo removal specialist will also conduct a full consultation to ensure that there are no other contraindications to treatment. Our clients are also educated about what is required pre and post-treatment.”
Cat shares with us why she believes it is so important for us as practitioners to offer our skills to those in need. “Late last year I was in the reception area of the clinic when I noticed a lady standing outside the clinic looking in. At first, it appeared as if she was reading the list of services advertised on our window. She stood there for quite some time before appearing to be very nervous and began pacing back and forth a little before moving towards our front door. When she entered the clinic she enquired about our tattoo removal service. She was incredibly nervous. She then went on to tell me how she had these tattoos on her body from radiation and that she was wondering if they could be removed. When told yes we can certainly do that for you and there is no charge for this service, she became very emotional and began to cry. It must have been incredibly hard for her to walk in that day and enquire about something that had affected her so deeply. I can’t help but feel that if we have the tools to do something so little that makes such a big difference to someone how could we not give up our time for this cause.”
When it comes to communicating the treatment with potential clients, Cat says “we have recently decided to be more forthcoming with communicating the service with our laser services recently advertising through social media platforms, and local advertising. We have been overwhelmed by the response. It has truly been incredible.”
Another therapist passionate in this area is Daniela Boerma of Bliss Day Spa, and creator of The Bliss Project. “The Bliss Project initiative was started to remove all radiation tattoo markers from various cancers not only breast cancer,” says Daniela. “We all have a story to tell regarding loved ones with cancer. I donate to the cancer foundations but offering this service free of charge was my way of giving back to the community, restoring the skin of these brave individuals pre-cancer.”
Daniela’s story is likely one that resonates with many of our readers and community. “In 2012 I lost my dear friend Cindy Bannon to a rare liver cancer,” she tells us. “I had the honour to care for her in her last 2 weeks of life, precious time spent making memories that stay with me always. One of the things Cindy disliked so much was the radiation markers that were all over her abdomen so I promised her I would remove them once she was well and cleared by her doctor. Sadly Cindy passed away peacefully at home with myself and her family by her side, an experience that changed me forever. Every time I remove a radiation marker I remember her and how brave she was fighting her cancer.” Most clients undergoing cancer treatment are very open to sharing their story, we simply offer the service if they have radiation markers. My salon for the last 8 years has had a no-charge policy for clients undergoing cancer treatment. We give up our time to spoil and pamper, providing kindness and compassion for those who need it most in our community.”
Last up is Georgie Westley, renowned cosmetic artist and owner of Distinctive Features Cosmetic Tattoo and Beauty. Georgie has developed quite the name for herself in the rare field of cosmetic areola tattooing, in which a new nipple is recreated through cosmetic tattoo to replicate the natural nipple the client has lost with surgery. It is an absolute life-changer for those who have undergone mastectomy. “Having been tattooing cosmetics for 16 years, I felt it was time to challenge myself and do something new,” says Georgie. “I was always interested in doing areola tattoo but couldn’t find anywhere to train plus I was already super busy. It really just got to a time where it was time to do something new. This was 4 years ago now. I never knew how much I would love it, and now it is my favourite thing to do, I think it’s the instant reward from being able to change someone’s life. Not only do I do breast cancer patients, I have done gynecomastia and mastopexy surgery scars for men and women fixing their scars and making their areolas round again. Plus transgender men who also need new nipples after a double mastectomy. I have even done a man who was born with a rare genetic disorder which saw him born with no nipples.”
Georgie tells us that being involved in this pivotal point in her clients’ lives is a truly special experience. “I just love all of my areola clients, being such an intimate area and such a journey they have been on, you become part of their journey. So I guess my approach (and this really is my approach with all clients) is to be their friend, someone they will remember and be able to relate to and feel comfortable with. You know, when they are laying there for a couple of hours we tend to just chat about life, mum life, their journey, our favourite music (as I always have a cool playlist going) we always have a good laugh and sometimes even a cry. And let me tell you when they go to look in the mirror for the first time when I’m finished, I’m always crying before they are. It’s such an emotional time for them to feel whole again and for me to know I made it happen. The touching storey for me is really just that they are alive to tell the tale and I’m there to hear it, work my art to end that journey, and start their new one.”
With these incredibly moving stories in mind, we encourage you all this World Cancer Day to consider how you might use your skills and position to change the lives of those touched by cancer. If your role or clinic doesn’t quite allow for this, that’s okay too. Perhaps instead, upon your next encounter with a client who had been affected by cancer, simply consider (As Georgie so wisely puts it) how you might bring some joy to them and their journey.