Registered nurse turned medical tattoo artist gives back to breast cancer survivors

Registered nurse turned medical tattoo artist gives back to breast cancer survivors

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Thousands of women are thrown into the fight of their life against a cancer diagnosis. For many, treatment includes the removal of one breast or both.

Pan Duby beat cancer, but she didn’t feel normal. A 3D tattoo artist and registered nurse, Christin Dottolo, helped change that with a simple, but meaningful tattoo.

After working as a registered nurse for 15 years and six years as a surgery nurse, Dottolo found a new purpose. She worked with women battling a breast cancer diagnosis from the beginning of the process to the end.

“They would come in, get a mastectomy, later on, come back, do reconstruction,” she said.

Though helpful in the cancer treatment process, some lifesaving surgeries to remove breasts leave women with scars instead of nipples and areolas.

One day after a reconstruction surgery, Dottolo asked a surgeon what are possible next steps for women to feel normal again. That’s when she found out about the medical tattoo industry.

Dottolo started training, shadowed trained professionals, and went back to school to learn how to create a 3D tattoo of the nipple and areola for breast cancer survivors.

Dottolo founded Medical Ink and tattooed her first patient in mid-2017.

She and Pam Duby met in April of 2019. Several months after Duby was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, she had a double mastectomy followed by reconstruction surgery.

“I was diagnosed at the beginning of July [2018]. Beginning of August, I was having surgery,” Duby said.

Both of Duby’s breasts were removed to treat her diagnosis, leaving her with scars in place of her nipples and areolas.

“The reconstructed breast is kind of like a blank canvas and really all you see at that point is the scars,” Dottolo said.

Dottolo scrubbed into countless surgeries, aiding doctors as they removed cancerous tissue from patients. She had no idea after years of nursing, she’d be tattooing.

"But when it hit me that this what I wanted to do, I knew this is where I’m supposed to be,” she said.

The 3D tattoo artist says she wanted to use her empathy for patients to be on the healing side of cancer.

“We go through so much with part of your body removed and gone. You want to feel as normal as you possibly can,” Duby said.

Although it’s not like your average tattoo, Dottolo says it can’t be implanted and the needle can’t go very deep into the skin.

“It has to be very shallow," she said. “It’s a very surface tattoo. It can fade over time.”

That means patients have to touch it up every five to seven years, Dottolo says. But if patients want to come in sooner, that’s no problem.

That’s still thinking on the bright side for Duby.

“It’s life. You can either take it with a grain of salt or you can beat it," she said.

She beat cancer and now she’s making the choices in her life.

“I’m a competitor. I don’t want to lose. I’m going to beat it, so here we are," she said.

WARNING: Images may be considered graphic by some viewers.

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