By Alexis Edgar
The hum of tattoo guns can be heard echoing in shops throughout Bellingham this month, as local artists commit to giving back to those who lost their breasts to cancer. Many shops are offering discounted rates for survivors, for the entire month of October, in honor of breast cancer awareness.
Kalamalka INK, a tattoo shop on Girard Street, is one of the tattoo shops in the area that gives back to the community of breast cancer survivors.
The shop is the reestablishment of a tattoo shop originally started by Letha Owens, who was diagnosed with breast cancer. The shop was then acquired by body piercer, Bryan Polinder, who died of cancer not long after, and given to Carrie Berg, the shop’s co-owner.
“These were Bryan’s words, ‘Kalamalka was considered the yarn store of tattoo shops.’ It was family-friendly, where everyone could come and be comfortable,” Berg said.
With that community-oriented vibe in mind, owners Jeff Holmes and Berg strive to help out the community in any way they can. They have done many cancer fundraisers.
Bo Fuks, an artist at Kalamalka, has experience with nipple restoration, which started when he helped a friend, giving her heart-shaped nipples after a double mastectomy left her with scars.
“They were flesh-toned, so they looked like real skin, and I have done two other sets of nipples. We can shade underneath and make it look like raised nipples,” Fuks said.
Fuks and Berg both have had experiences where they were asked to fix a professional cosmetic clinician’s tattoo because of incorrect coloring or scarring.
“The doctor tried to do a tattoo on her and it was terrible. All scarred up and deep and did it while all the other stuff was healing. It was just bad practice,” Fuks said.
Berg interjected that her client had received “sherbert orange” nipples by doctors who were unable to match her skin color.
The artists at Kalamalka emphasize their belief in making everyone feel comfortable, with the tattoo environment and themselves, and devote their time to helping others.
Like Fuks, Berg worked on a breast cancer survivor who was left scarred from a double mastectomy and had a clinician restorative tattoo gone wrong. The client went into the shop embarrassed and came out confident.
“She [the client] was broken. She kept repeating over and over how comfortable she felt[during the tattooing process],” Berg said. “Her [nipples] were distorted and I did the areola so the nipples looked like they were protruding. After, she told me that she can finally take her shirt off in front of her husband now. She felt whole again.”
Tattoo artist Shelly James, of Shelly James Tattoo plans to give free 3D areola tattoos to five women in her own private studio.
“Most insurance companies would cover the cost of what I would charge for me to do these 3D nipples. So what I would do is provide an insurance receipt and that allows it to be more affordable,” James said.
With nipple costs ranging from $600 to $1500 depending on the artist and location, reconstructed areolas can cost “an arm and a leg,” said Mandi Jordan, of Mandi’s Private Tattoo Club.
As a certified 3D areola tattoo artist, Jordan has taken a different approach to offering her services to those in need.
Last year, Jordan promoted her services via Facebook offering free areolas for the cost of supplies for the entire month of October, in support of breast cancer awareness.
“Over 60,000 people saw it. I just got blown up,” Jordan said. “I even did several for free just because they had to travel from Eastern Washington or Oregon,” she continued. “If you can get here, we’re good.”
Jordan’s approach to nipple restoration is founded by her desire to help the community.
“I just love helping people,” Jordan said. “Imagine looking at yourself with no nips.”
Jordan’s philosophy revolves around making people feel better about themselves, which is why she offers other beautifying services, such as eyebrows, to the public for those in need.
She went on to say she plans to offer the same services she did last year, avoiding the insurance paper-trail all together, and offering areolas for the cost of supplies.
Kalamalka INK is offering tattoos during October for breast cancer as well. The shop is asking $30 for ribbons, the cancer awareness insignia, $50 for a set of nipples and $30 for a single nipple.