A woman retrained as a cosmetic and paramedical tattooist so she could help her best friend reclaim her body after battling breast cancer.
Rachel Kennedy, 34, a hairdresser from South Wales, spent £12,000 on classes and equipment in order to give best friend Andria Harris a new pair of nipples, following gruelling chemotherapy and surgery.
Mum-of-two Andria, now 53, was diagnosed with aggressive Stage 3 breast cancer in 2013.
‘It was heartbreaking when Andria told me. She found a lump in her breast on Christmas day of all days,’ Rachel recalled. ‘We have been best friends for 14 years. She is a mum just like me and it was so scary for her.’
‘Devastation is an under-statement,’ Andria said of her diagnosis.
She underwent several rounds of chemo, which saw her lose her hair, as well as several lumpectomies – surgical removal of portions of the breast – which saw her lose part of her left nipple.
Unable to simply stand by, Rachel decided to do something practical to give her friend a much-needed psychological boost as she battled the disease.
‘Andria felt robbed of her identity. Most of us take our breasts for granted until we are faced with losing them,’ she explained. ‘She was very self-conscious of her body and wouldn’t get undressed. It was horrible seeing my bubbly, happy friend withdraw from life.’
So, Rachel spent £12,000 training as a cosmetic and paramedical tattooist. After Andria’s eyelashes and eyebrows fell out, she first learnt how to ink the perfect brow and last line.
And when Andria lost part of her nipple during surgery at University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, South Wales, Rachel didn’t hesitate to offer her services.
‘I told her it wasn’t a problem and I could give her a new nipple,’ she said.
The inking took three hours. ‘It takes a lot of skill to tattoo a nipple, because women can be left with scar tissue or their skin can become very thin after treatment for cancer,’ Rachel explained.
‘It’s very emotional too when they see the finished result. It’s not just a physical thing.’
She now hopes to help other women who’ve undergone breast cancer surgery, after seeing what a boost it gave to Andria.
‘Now it is my mission to help other women going through the same. It’s a wonderful feeling helping to make someone feel beautiful again after their lives have been turned upside down from cancer,’ she said.
Andria is now in remission and going for six-monthly check ups. She describes Rachel as her ‘saviour’, explaining: ‘Words cannot say what a difference this made to me.’
‘We are such close friends and I feel privileged to have done this for her,’ added Rachel. ‘When people ask me what is the best present you’ve ever given – I say a pair of nipples!’