Indy tattoo artist uses her skills to turn breast cancer survivors’ scars into art

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- A local tattoo artist is using her skills to help breast cancer survivors get back to normal after finishing treatment.

With her skills and ink, Amanda Cancilla is giving women a way to feel like themselves, even after a mastectomy.

Bobbie Rankin recalls the moment she learned of her breast cancer diagnosis, just a few months ago.

"It was instant fear and anxiety, and it really took a lot from me. It was very difficult," said Rankin.

Doctors found cancer in both of her breasts. She decided a bilateral mastectomy and immediate reconstruction was the right thing for her.

"At first, after my surgery, the only thing I could see were the scars," said Rankin.

Many women face the same issue - going through the surgeries but still feeling incomplete. That’s where Cancilla comes in, prepared with her tattoo needle.

"A lot of them describe it as feeling like a barbie doll before they have this done they just have mounds on their chest," said Cancilla.

She spends one day a week at St. Vincent Hospital to tattoo breast cancer survivors. This last step in the reconstruction process is art that helps heal.

"They’re focused on the artistic side of that design. They’re coming in and doing a 3D nipple tattoo, but it’s something we physically can’t create like that," said St. Vincent plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Paul. "For most of the state, there wasn’t someone doing this type of procedure on a regular basis."

Rankin says the tattoos helped her see her scars as a triumph instead of a trauma.

"It’s something that I won at. it’s something I survived and it’s made me stronger and I feel complete again," she said. "I’m comfortable in my own skin again, which is huge for a woman."

For Cancilla, hearing survivors share those feelings is what drives her to go beyond the tattoo parlor and step into her role at the doctor’s office.

"It’s been such an opportunity; I love being here. I love the impact I make on people here. Regular tattoos make an impact too, but this is different. I know it’s something a lot of them want to have done and so few of them know it’s available right now," said Cancilla.

One important factor about the tattooing is that it's being done at a doctor's office, so most insurance plans will cover the procedure as part of the reconstruction. Otherwise, these tattoos can cast as much as $1,000.