This week at Addicted, we find ourselves inspired by tattoo artist and breast cancer survivor Monica Haro.
Breast cancer sufferers undergo surgery after surgery as part of their treatment, coming out of operating rooms with one or no breasts, all for the sake of saving their lives from this ravaging disease. Once the surgical scars heal, then comes the option of reconstruction. From what I’ve been told by women who have experienced breast cancer, breast reconstruction is something that is pushed on them to return them to “normal”, to bring them back to their state of womanhood. Some women choose to eschew the entire concept (after all, breasts don’t make a woman a woman) while others undergo the procedure. And while reconstructive surgery can recreate the shape of a breast, there is one key component that is missing: the nipple. And that’s where Monica comes in.
A breast cancer survivor, Monica was diagnosed when she was 42 years old. Her young son had just turned 5 the previous week. Following the traditional course of treatment, Monica underwent a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and multiple breast revision surgeries. It was during her treatment that Monica met tattoo artist Tee Jay Hernandez.
The timing was fortuitous: Monica had just read a magazine article about nipple tattoos. With nearly 25 years in tattooing, Tee Jay saw a need to cater to the breast cancer community with his skills. And Monica saw an opportunity to learn, and help women like her as well. Soon she began apprenticing under Tee Jay at his studio, Future Primitive in Martinez, California. With Monica on board, Tee Jay decided to build out a sister studio, Velvet, across the street from Future Primitive. Velvet is a positive and private environment tailored to clients dealing with post breast cancer scars. From realistic nipples to illustrative breast surgery scar cover up pieces, Monica and Tee Jay help women continue their recovery through the art of tattoo.
Learn more about Monica and her work in her own words below!
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an Egyptologist or a writer.
How did you get involved with the work you currently do?
I got breast cancer. I never had any intention of making nipple tattoos prior. I didn’t even know that was a thing. My marriage ended during cancer. I had been a stay at home mom to my son for a few years. I knew that when I was done with chemo and radiation, I would need to return to the workforce. I was never fulfilled in the corporate jobs I worked in for 17 years prior to being a full time mom. I needed a job where I felt I had purpose and passion. I also knew I needed a job that was somehow connected to the cancer community. I read an article in Cosmopolitan magazine about a man named Vinny Myers who is the go to guy for nipple tattoos. I was very inspired by that article. He had a final hand in cancer and I thought that was awesome. I began thinking maybe I could do that too. I wanted to have a final hand in cancer so bad. I wanted to try to give women some semblance of feeling sexy again.
What are the biggest challenges/setbacks you’ve had to face?
When I began my apprenticeship, I was just finishing up chemo. I was going through radiation. I had had many surgeries. My body was worn out. I was beat up mentally. I was trying to be a good mom. I was upset with the timing of my marriage ending. I was furious over losing my breasts. All these things mixed together were a big disruption to my emotional state. Going to the tattoo studio, surrounded by a group of supportive people kept me going. For me, having purpose and focus are paramount to surviving challenges and setbacks. I had my son and I had this apprenticeship. One thing that messes with my head daily is knowing I was stage 3C, advanced stage cancer. I guess always having that in the back of my head can be a challenge in a good way though. It makes me want to spend more time with my son and friends.
How do you manage to do it all?
I don’t have any more to manage that any other person or parent. I’m fortunate that I have my mother helping me out with my son and the support of my friends.
If you had one wish to help make the world a better place, what would it be?
More people with moral rectitude.
Who inspires you?
I am inspired by “makers”. People who make music, art, crafts, writers, dancers, chefs, builders of things… And stage 4 cancer survivors. They are true badasses!