Tattoo artist Samantha Rae left

Cancer survivors pretty in P.Ink

Errington tattoo artist Samantha Rae creates designs for women scarred by mastectomies

At the home studio of Errington tattoo artist Samantha “Sam” Rae last Saturday, a plump bumblebee hovered silently over a vibrant daisy set in a wash of background colour.

Then Tracy Young closed the shawl covering her reconstructed chest and the view disappeared.

Young, a 52-year-old breast cancer survivor from Victoria, traveled to Errington last weekend to take part in the third annual P.Ink (Personal Ink) Day, a program that links patients of mastectomies with qualified tattoo artists to turn ravaged flesh into works of art.

Costs are largely covered through donations gathered by the parent Personal Ink organization through its website at p-ink.org.

“I wanted to be part of a network of amazing artists who come from a heart-centric place to help the healing process for breast cancer survivors,” said Rae, who inked Young’s chest at her Sam R Tattoo Studio while participating in P.Ink Day for the second time.

P.Ink Day began in 2013 with 10 artists in New York City matched with 10 mastectomy patients. It has grown to 45 artists in 13 North American locations enlisted to ink mastectomy tattoos on 48 survivors this year.

Rae, 34, has one of just two registered P.Ink Day sites in Canada, which is technically listed as Vancouver. The other is in Calgary, where Rae’s mentor, Stacie-Rae Weir of Calgary, works. Weir is a breast cancer survivor who now serves an artist advisor for the organization.

“I didn’t know about it until I worked with (Weir),” Rae said. “I started working with her three years ago, right when this was on the upswing.”

The organization has grown slowly, and that is by design, said Rae. Each artist must serve an apprenticeship before being certified as a P.Ink Day artist.

“I’m suited to apply my method to sensitive skin,” Rae said. “And I can certainly apply that sensitivity to this work.”

The day was documented in Rae’s studio by a photographer, a videographer and a social media coordinator who uploaded images to Personal Ink’s website, Pinterest and Facebook pages.

Terri Welsh of Courtenay, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2013 and who underwent a mastectomy in November of that year, served as the social media coordinator. Just like the artists, mastectomy patients must apply in advance to receive a P.Ink Day tattoo, and Welsh hopes to be Rae’s subject in next year’s event.

Tracy Young of Victoria, centre, and friend Dot Wikman, left, chat with volunteer Terri Welsh of Courtenay at the home studio of Errington tattoo artist Samantha Rae on P.Ink Day last Saturday. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS

“It’s a process,” said Welsh. “I was seeking something creative for myself after my own mastectomy. It was too late for me to apply for this year, but I wanted to come and be involved.”

I hadn’t made a decision on what to do, but today, after seeing Tracy, I made the decision,” Welsh added as she broke into tears.

Young also said she was sold on the tattoo — her first — after meeting with Rae for a consultation last spring. The Victoria wife and mother was diagnosed five years ago and underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy sessions before being declared cancer-free, she said.

“I started thinking about (a tattoo) about two years ago, and a year ago I started seriously looking for a tattoo artist who would work with mastectomy victims,” said Young, who was unaware of the P.Ink Day program at the time. “When I came and saw Sam, I knew she was the exact right person.”

During their first meeting in April, the women discussed Young’s design, the flower-and-bee motif that covers both of her reconstructed breasts.

“I wanted something organic, something gentle and soft,” said Young. “The daisy, to me, is a super strong and resilient, yet gentle flower. I view the daisies as my family and friends.

“The bee is an amazing creature who can do so much they aren’t supposed to do — they aren’t supposed to be able to fly, but they do — and they bring us life. The bee is the person I want to be.”

P.Ink Day — which actually is held over the entire second weekend of October — matches a single artist with a single survivor at each location. But mastectomy patients may sign up for tattoos the rest of the year at p-ink.org, where donors may also contribute to help fund the program.

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