Doctors and artists come together to help breast cancer survivors feel whole again

Published: Oct. 28, 2022 at 12:38 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime according to the CDC. Rapid City provides cancer patients access to everything they need for consultation, treatment, reconstruction, even appearance.

“It’s very important to start from the second they walk into the office. Every breast cancer patient is panicked and justifiably so,” said Dr. Alice Police, a breast cancer surgeon with Monument Health. “It’s such a common cancer and it cuts across all factors of a woman’s life. It cuts across her work life, her personal life, her health, and it has implications that are emotional and physiological - far beyond just the physical.”

At Monument Health’s Cancer Care Institute, the breast surgery team made up of a handful of doctors takes a patient through treatment, surgery, and reconstruction.

“My role is, after the breast surgeon removes the tumor, to reconstruct a breast. Basically, make a woman feel whole again,” said Dr. Hunter Moyer, a plastic surgeon with Monument Health. “And the final piece is nipple and areola, either tattooing or reconstruction. If you thought about your belly, your abdomen and there was no belly button there. That kind of seems odd, it doesn’t look right, and it really just doesn’t feel right either, so that’s the final piece.”

During reconstruction, some patients have the option for nipple and areola reconstruction. For those not wanting to undergo another surgery, tattooing is also a way to go.

“The point of reconstruction is to be made whole again. If you took your car to a body shop and they kind of halfway fixed it, didn’t put the headlights back on, you would take your car back and say ‘complete this job’. And that’s kind of where we come in,” said Matt Thrash, owner of Thrash’s Tattoo. “There’s a lot of surgeons in the world that are doing great work, I mean, they’re saving lives and whatnot, but I’m very proud as a tattoo artist to find out that we have a role in that.”

Tattooing provides breast cancer survivors with an option that fits what they’re looking for; either going to a standard-looking nipple or a graphic design like a flower, star, or whatever they choose.

This type of tattooing isn’t just beneficial for the client but also for changing people’s perceptions of the art form.

“Tattoo in the public view has always been mixed opinion,” continued Thrash. “Being able to re-pigmentate a nipple, areola situation puts tattoo in a serious light. It puts us a seat at the table we might not have normally had. And lets me present tattooing to the public in a way I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.”

Breast Cancer Awareness month wraps up soon but every day provides is a good opportunity to keep an eye on your health.

“The top three things you can do for yourself as a woman are get your mammogram, get your mammogram, and get your mammogram,” finished Dr. Police.