Girls rule. Girls are strong. Girls never give up. When girls are faced with breast cancer—they fight. And when they win, they’re left with memories of that battle, often in the form of scars. It’s not unusual for a woman to feel like she lost her femininity once the fight is over. But these women are the most beautiful women in the world—they’re survivors. And they found a way to get their mojo back. They’re getting tattooed by Shane Wallin of Mastectomy Tattoo.
“If they had any sort of apprehension [to get tattooed] they think, ‘I could have lost my life, and I’ve always wanted a tattoo,'” Wallin tells Inked. The artist explains that mastectomy tattoos are “huge for self image and self esteem and feeling sexual, it’s awesome.” Wallin has been tattooing for more than 22 years, but he gave his first mastectomy tattoo (a sexy black lace bra) in 2012, and it was a reward like nothing else.
A photo of that tattoo went viral, collecting more than 40,000 likes in just a couple of days, changing his career as an artist indefinitely. In March 2015, Wallin launched Mastectomy Tattoo to give areola pigmentation and mastectomy tattoos direct attention. He now tattoos out of both Minneapolis and San Diego. “[The client] goes over to the mirror to look and a lot of times the tears will start flowing,” he says.
He recently tattooed black-and-grey roses on the breasts of survivor Tina Mendenhall of Tucson, Arizona. The mother-0f-three’s motto: “Survivors need survivors to survive.” Wallin also tattooed a large sternum and wings piece on Juanita Williams of San Diego. “Juanita is a force to be reckoned with,” Wallin says. “She is a two time breast cancer survivor and she was taking care of her grandson through all of that.”
In collaboration with Wallin, photographer Erena Shimoda photographed the cancer survivors underwater as a way to heal their mind and body and showcase their new ink. The final result is stunning. They felt so “free, joyful, and confident,” Shimoda says. “They are both beautiful inside and out.”
Mendenhall had a double mastectomy and has been cancer free for over two years. “I want to show [my kids] a strong, beautiful survivor,” she wrote in an Underwater Healer testimonial. “To see a survivor surviving gives strength.”
Juanita wrote in her Underwater Healer testimonial, “I was so happy to see pictures of tattoos covering the scars of surgery, I cried.” She added, “I was joyful to know there is beauty after breast cancer.” Juanita thanked her tattooers, “Tony and Shane, my great tattoo artists, for helping me find my sexy back.”
Wallin says he’d like to exclusively do mastectomy work in the future, though he currently tattoos all styles. This adventure “is life changing,” he says.
Check out more of Wallin’s mastectomy tattoos in the gallery below!