Patients at Miami Cancer Institute who opt for breast reconstruction surgery following a mastectomy now have a new service available to them that provides a realistic finishing touch for their reconstructed breast.
Paramedical restorative tattoo artist Suzanne Moe specializes in a technique that replicates the original nipple and areola for clients who’ve lost one or both nipples as a result of surgery.
The 3D Nipple Areola Tattoo is a non-invasive, non-surgical procedure that involves implanting ink just below the top layer of skin, according to Ms. Moe. The customized ink color, combined with shadowing techniques, gives the illusion of depth and dimension, similar to the trompe l’oeil (French for “trick the eye”) technique used by artists for centuries.
“Although many breast cancer patients are candidates for nipple-sparing mastectomies, some need to have their nipples removed as part of the surgery for oncologic or anatomic reasons,” says Ms. Moe, who has worked as a licensed tattoo artist since 1997. “I’m able to replicate and restore the natural look of both the nipple and the areola by custom-mixing pigments that match individual skin tones. I then gently tattoo over scars to create a realistic looking nipple and areola, complete with light, shadows, textures and dimension.”
The tattoo process itself usually takes two hours or less, according to Ms. Moe, but she also spends additional time with patients during the initial consultation so she can get to know them, discuss the process, establish expectations and answer their questions and concerns.
For those worried about safety practices or COVID-19, Ms. Moe says she works with an abundance of care and caution, and the patient’s safety and peace of mind are always a top priority. “I take care of my own in-laws, who are in their 90s, so I’m extremely careful in my own life – for the sake of my family and my clients,” Ms. Moe says. “We follow strict sterilization and sanitation standards in accordance with OSHA requirements, and use a 100% single-use, disposable system for each procedure. We also use face masks, face shields and plastic barriers, and everything is wiped down and disinfected between clients.”
Immediately after the session, the tattoo is cleaned and covered with a sterile barrier, which is worn for three days. The tattoo is then kept clean for two weeks while it heals. “No swimming or soaking during this time,” Ms. Moe says. A follow-up appointment eight to ten weeks later lets Ms. Moe and her client evaluate the tattoo once it has healed and add more color or size, if needed.
The tattoo is permanent and will last a lifetime, according to Ms. Moe, who has her own studio, SUMA Ink, in Homestead, Florida, and also sees patients twice a month at Miami Cancer Institute.
Miami Cancer Institute is where Suzy Turner, a 53-year-old mother and business owner from Kendall, sought treatment for breast cancer in 2018. Following her subsequent bilateral mastectomy in 2019, Mrs. Turner had breast reconstruction surgery done by Dr. Miguel Medina, who referred her to Ms. Moe for the “finishing touch.” In February, she became the very first patient to receive a 3D Nipple Areola Tattoo at Miami Cancer Institute.
Mrs. Turner, who 10 years ago launched Turner Tasty Treats, a custom cookie bakery that creates beautifully designed cookies for all occasions, remembers feeling an instant connection with Ms. Moe during her initial consultation. “She was almost like a long-lost girlfriend,” Mrs. Turner recalls. “We talked and laughed, she walked me through the process step-by-step, and she had a great response for every question or concern I had.”
Mrs. Turner had her first session with Ms. Moe this February. The coronavirus pandemic put the final step of her healing process on hold, however, and it wasn’t until June of this year that she was able to schedule her follow-up appointment. Today, her tattoos are completely healed and she couldn’t be happier with the results.
“They look great – they’re very similar to what I had before, in terms of color and shape. They even passed the ‘sister-in-law test’,” Mrs. Turner says with a laugh.
According to Ms. Moe, the detailed, lifelike restoration of their breasts’ features helps patients reclaim a sense of wholeness and completion after what can be a long and difficult journey. “The transformation is profound on many levels – it’s really quite emotional, with lots of happiness, gratitude, and tears of joy,” Ms. Moe says. “I love helping people, and I’m humbled and honored to be able to do this for them.”
Mrs. Turner is delighted to recommend the nipple tattoo service provided at Miami Cancer Institute. “Women are happy to talk about their breasts and augmentation but when it comes to breast cancer, not so much,” Mrs. Turner observes. “I’m pleased to be a voice for the benefits of breast reconstruction and nipple tattooing.”
Mrs. Turner says that while having breast cancer was the worst thing that’s ever happened to her, she has had the most amazing experience at Miami Cancer Institute. “It’s such a great place. I always recommend it because the people there are so amazing and they have everything you need under one roof,” Mrs. Turner says.
Bringing platters of her famous, fresh-baked cookies with her to her appointments is just one of the ways Mrs. Turner has expressed her gratitude to the doctors and staff at Miami Cancer Institute. “Everyone I’ve come across there during my journey has been so caring and helpful and accessible. It’s the least I can do,” she says.