A nurse and breast cancer survivor finds new career as a tattoo artist

A nurse by trade and a tattoo artist by chance, Tara Williamson has a unique understanding of both sides of the spectrum when it comes to a breast cancer diagnosis as well as the complex feelings surrounding the tattoos women are often given during treatment. Diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39, Tara underwent a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction only to be met with frustration when she could not find a tattoo artist who could create a realistic-looking nipple.

Deciding that patients deserved more, Williamson became a certified areola tattoo artist and founded Pink Ink Tattoo, a female-focused business dedicating to providing women realistic-looking options in a variety of colors and sizes for their tattoos. Today, she shares more about her treatment journey and her dedication to helping others heal with dignity and compassion.

Tara tattoos a 3D nipple for a breast cancer survivor. SOURCE: @pink_ink_tattoo

I was 39 years old when they gave me the report that I had breast cancer. Surely, they had me confused with someone else. I had no family history and I  couldn’t feel any lumps.

Being a nurse for so long and looking at reports all day, I knew what that report was stating about me. I grabbed every medical book I had. Quickly reading chapter after chapter and researching online. Spending every second praying and talking with my family about the right treatment path for me. A trip to the plastic surgeon’s office and then quickly into surgery was what I thought would happen, but God’s plan wasn’t going along with my timeline. I was scheduled for surgery on March 13th, 2012. Just two days before my surgery, the breast surgeon called and rescheduled the surgery because of insurance issues. I was devastated. I cried for hours. As if that wasn’t enough, I was getting ready to receive even more horrific news. I got an urgent call from family telling me that my dad who lived over 500 miles away from me was dying. I dropped everything and rushed to be by his side, but sadly he passed away on March 16. On his 62nd birthday.  Driving back home to North Carolina to plan my father’s funeral, my breast surgeon called again. She said “New plan, let’s do a lumpectomy just to get it out. Then we’ll reschedule the bilateral surgery for a different date.” I went numb; I felt helpless and powerless over my body and just wanted to get this out of me.

During the post-op I got the whole story. The cancer had advanced and was invasive. Invasive ductal carcinoma, high grade. After an intense conversation with my breast surgeon about my body, my life, and my choice – we scheduled a date for the bilateral mastectomy. Months later my plastic surgeon talked to me about areola, 3D tattooing.  We searched for months looking for an expert artist that felt right. Sadly, after not finding the right one, I gave up and allowed the nurse to perform them. She gave me three options, chocolate brown, bubble gum pink or nude. I almost fell out of the chair. I thought to myself; “Are you kidding me? This is my last hoorah? Survivors deserve more! Survivors deserve the best.” Therefore, I deserved the best.

Feeling my own pain, and dissatisfaction, I decided I was going to train with the best areola tattoo instructor in the country. Here I was, formally trained as a nurse, trading one needle for another to keep helping others. When they handed me that tattoo pin, I knew this was my purpose, my gift, my answer to “why me.” God had a higher meaning for my life, and I was ready to live it.  In April 2014, I founded Pink Ink Tattoo.

Pink Ink Tattoo has now expanded nationally. With events and recognition internationally. I am now in 4 states and travel to reach survivors who may not be able to reach me. Working alongside many wonderful plastic surgeons. The power of survivorship starts within ourselves. I give back every chance I get, and I give to other women hurting just like I did. Today, I have the opportunity to give survivors a finishing touch to the long, emotional journey of breast cancer. Helping to restore their confidence and feel whole again.

The most amazing thing I learned throughout this journey is that the second act of your life can be far more important than your first, but it’s up to you. I’m a nurse; a mom of three beautiful children, a grandma, a wife, a kidney donor to my sister (yes, I donated my kidney along the way), and a Certified 3D Areola tattoo artist. Today, I wouldn’t trade my life, my path for any other path that I could have chosen to travel. I am right where I belong. Tara Williamson

Follow Tara on instagram @pink_ink_tattoo to see examples of her work and learn more about her story.