Lorna Poulos is an amazing artist who was recently featured in The Examiner for her beautiful ArtPrize entry “Marta.” At that time she also mentioned her work with cancer survivors. She agreed to do a special interview for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
John Collins (JC): Thanks again for taking out the time to chat with me. I loved your ArtPrize project and was impressed with both your work there and your work beyond ArtPrize.
Lorna Poulos (LP): Thank you John, and it’s good speaking with you again.
(JC): Can you tell me what services you provide and how you came to work with cancer survivors?
(LP): Well in my everyday business I started offering tattooed make up for both women and men. The services I had to offer were eyebrows, eye liner, lip liner and full lip color. When I heard about further education that was geared more toward normalizing the skin surface from breast reconstruction, scars, misguided make up tattoos, etc., I took the next steps to learn and practice.
It started out with a surgeon who performed breast reconstruction that had seen my work. The work he saw was on me and not in your normal place one would see an areola and nipple. But the practice on real skin was very important. So he put his trust in me to put the final touches on his work. And it took off from there.
(JC): Tell me about the work you do with cancer survivors.
(LP): I’ve worked on many surgeon’s reconstruction who use their skills to rebuild women and men’s breast. There are so many techniques to reconstruct the breast to a normal appearance, and it amazed me.
What I do is to put the finishing touches on the work of plastic surgeon’s breast reconstruction. I put natural colors under the skin to match the natural breast or when doing both, I have my clients give me an idea of what color they would want to see.
It could be on a breast where my client chooses to have nipple reconstructed or leave it flat. Either way I can make them look like they’re three dimensional with shadowing and highlighting. Painting realism by blending colors has helped me in my tattooing to make the best choices under the skin.
(JC): Do all breast reconstructions turn out well?
(LP): Not all reconstruction turns out well for different reasons. Some surgeries are very extensive with a lot of scaring. Every person heals differently so some removals are not ideal for reconstruction. That’s just the way it is. A reconstructive surgeon really needs to be an artist to work with these hurdles.
There are also patients that need chemotherapy along with radiation. I have a client that had both treatments and after a couple reconstructive surgeries, it wouldn’t heal. She finally chose what was important to her health and had the reconstruction removed to heal without a breast.
A good friend of mine is having radiation on her breast but her surgeon told her that reconstruction might not heal because of it. So for her health she will not have reconstruction. I learn so much from my clients and friends as they go through each step.
When reconstruction is done, it can be done in different ways. An expander can be put in to stretch the skin so that an implant can replace it, whether it be a gel or saline implant. Also healthy skin and muscle can be borrowed from different parts of the body to create a new breast.
The nipple reconstruction is done in many ways. There are some I disagree with because of what I feel is unnecessary discomfort to other parts of the body and the way they look after healing as areola and nipple.
I do have my preference as to which way I would have it done if I had to make a choice for me personally. Any way you chose, you have to make the right choices for yourself.
I find the women and men that I work with are some of the strongest people you’ll find. What they’ve gone through from the time they’re told they have cancer to the time they come and see me is more than you would ever want a loved one to go through. Not only the physical part of it but the emotional part of it as well.
To have compassionate doctors that practice a little psychology, understanding the stages of emotion that cancer survivors are going through, and restoration that he or she gives back to the patient, is just so important for a healthy outcome.
(JC): Is the tattooing uncomfortable?
(LP): For most of my clients, the tattooing is comfortable. There are different degrees of nerve damage from breast removal, which is very understandable. So the experience is not a bad one. In some instances there are areas that my clients may feel. But one has to remember the final results are worth a little discomfort.
(JC): Why would a cancer survivor want to have this sort of work done?
(LP): That’s an easy question. A cancer survivor is devastated to know he or she has cancer, but a part of their body is going to be taken away forever. To give a more natural appearance is so important to most patients. It makes them feel whole again when they look in the mirror. And it makes me feel fantastic when I can play a small part of that.
(JC): Does insurance cover it?
(LP): Because I do not work in a medical office, the insurance sometimes takes care of it but in a lot of cases it won’t. I do keep my costs down for this reason. Many people chose to use me because of the artistic side of it.
Surgeons refer their patients to me because they’re good at what they do and send the work to me because I’m pretty good at what I do. Together, we have some pretty good results.
(JC): Do you have any final thoughts to pass on to breast cancer survivors considering tattooing to complete their reconstructions?
(LP): Yes, here are a few words of wisdom to anyone considering the final touches of tattooing.
– Make sure if you don’t know what kind of work the technician does, insist on a consultation.
– Make sure you look at before and after photos of the technicians work and not generic photos they purchase.
– Know their sanitation practices even in doctor’s offices.
– If you are not comfortable with the answers or they won’t give you a consult or show you photos, find another technician.
For more information on Lorna Poulos and her breast reconstruction and other tattoo artistry check out her website – http://www.lornapoulos.com
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