This Vancouver Tattoo Artist is Helping Breast Cancer Survivors Feel Like Themselves Again

You probably don’t think twice catching a glimpse of yourself in the mirror after a shower, but for those who have experienced a mastectomy or reconstructive surgery after beating breast cancer, the loss of the humble nipple can make it hard to feel like themselves again.

Luckily, a few hours with a talented tattoo artist can make all the difference. “A lot of my clients say they get focused on the scarring and abnormalities when they lose that focal point. When you create a nipple again, it just creates that sense of normalcy again,” says Shaughnessy Otsuji of Studio Sashiko, who performs up to 20 areola tattoos a month for breast cancer survivors in her Langley shop. These clients come from all over the world—a map in Otsuji’s studio has pins in it from New Yorkers, Texans and New Zealanders alike. 

It’s a service she started offering after a family member went through reconstruction and was unhappy with how her own, surgeon-applied tattoo faded to a peach dot within years. “A lot of surgeons don’t have that background in creating tattoos,” she says. Otsuji’s background in fine arts (she’s an Emily Carr University of Art and Design graduate) and six-plus years as a body modification artist make her particularly skilled at realistic renderings of the human form, and her permanent method means no fading. 

Otsuji was already doing eyebrow tattoos for chemotherapy patients, and has transitioned easily into the niche space. It’s unfortunately not a service that’s covered by public healthcare at this point in time, but she works to keeps prices as low as possible, in the $300 to $500 range. 

Studio Sashiko will be raffling off cosmetic tattoo services and nipple tattoos to raise funds during Boobyball, an annual party in support of the fight against breast cancer. The goal is to help out a woman in need, but also to raise awareness that this is a service. “I want people to know this is an option,” says Otsuji. 

This year’s Boobyball Vancouver takes place at the Permanent (the theme: under the sea) and features an open bar, snacks galore and dancing until the wee hours. Tickets available here. 

Find Otsuji’s personal Instagram here, and Studio Sashiko’s is here.