UNIVERSITY CITY, MO. - It’s a process and a place that typically requires a lot of courage.
But getting a tattoo is far from the scariest thing Carolyn Leeman of Overland has ever done.
“It just hit me one day how much my body had been through,” she explained.
Six years ago, at 52, Leeman was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a life-changing moment followed by a brave and bold choice.
“I was ready to do it. I was tired of worrying about it,” Leeman said.
She opted to have a double mastectomy, which she said was necessary to get rid of the cancer.
But even after reconstructive surgery, Leeman said her breasts were left deeply scarred.
“You look in the mirror and you see the scars. It was just a daily reminder of that chapter of my life,” she said.
So a couple of months ago, the now 58-year-old retired teacher walked into Iron Age Studio in the Delmar Loop.
She was interested in the kind of ink you won’t find examples of hanging on the walls: nipples.
“I wanted to look normal,” Leeman said.
Tattoo artist Kerry Soraci is a former art teacher who now specializes in helping breast cancer survivors transform their bodies.
“It’s a signifier of hope and of newness and of empowerment,” she exaplined.
Soraci uses her talent and tools to create the illusion of real nipples on all sorts of women, including Leeman. It’s something she began doing 20 years.
“It’s basically working with a realistic style tattoo. If you’re doing a portrait tattoo, it would be the same technique,” Soraci explained.
But it’s the meaning behind this work that makes these tattoos different from all the others.
“These women have been robbed of a part of and of a time of their life and their body. Now they have the opportunity to reclaim it,” Soraci explained.
The results are like a whole new scar painted over the old ones, representing the strength it takes to move past the darkest side of the disease.
“Kerry gave me a gift," Leeman said. "She gave me back my self-esteem. I don’t see scars anymore. I see beauty.”
For more information about Kerry’s tattoos and services, you can contact her directly through her website.
You can also learn more about breast cancer and ways to detect it by checking out the following resources: