Tattoo artist Beth Fairchild has been living with stage 4 cancer for five years. Her aggressive treatment including removing both her breasts and her uterus, along with chemotherapy.
Now, she's working to help other women who have had mastectomies.
"I'm a tattooist who specializes in permanent cosmetics, and areola tattooing for breast cancer patients who lost their breasts due to mastectomy," she told TODAY.
Fairchild, who has a family history of the disease, was diagnosed at 34. She said her mother was 44 and her grandmother in her 70s when they developed breast cancer. And her father's mother died of the disease at 33.
Her mother's cancer was treated with a lumpectomy, but the effects of the treatment inspired Fairchild, now 40, to combine her love of tattooing and art with the needs of breast cancer survivors.
"My mom lost half of her breast and her areola," Fairchild explained. "Seeing her body after surgery, I was like, 'Wow. I could fix that.' And so I started looking into it."
To be able to just add this little simple thing, so when they look in the mirror they see the person that they used to be, it's almost like the completion of a circle.
At the time, Fairchild had been working in the tattoo industry for over a decade. As she began researching, she realized that permanent tattoos had a valuable medical purpose.
"I realized that there was this whole other aspect of tattooing with eyeliner and eyebrows," she said. "You know, a lot of people who have chemo, their lashes fall out and they never come back, or people have alopecia, or older women who have Parkinson's or a neurological disorder and they can't draw their makeup on anymore."
Fairchild didn't tattoo her mother, but when she herself was diagnosed, her work became "a labor of love" and a way to give back to other patients who were experiencing similar procedures.
"Usually what the surgeon will do is just build a breast mound, so it's just an implant and tissue, and there's no nipple," she explained. "There's not really even a protrusion ... and it's just, you kind of look like a Barbie doll, if that makes sense. And so to be able to just add this little simple thing, so when they look in the mirror they see the person that they used to be; it's almost like the completion of a circle."
'I look like me, again'
Fairchild said that even when she was in the middle of her own treatment, she would take time to work with cancer patients. Often, people didn't realize that she, too, was being treated for breast cancer.
"They thought my bald head was just my style," she explained. "But I was in the throes of chemo. And often times I would leave the infusion room and go tattoo. And for me, it was more about the client. I wanted to really focus on them and what they were going through."
For Fairchild, the best part is a client's reaction when their tattoo is finished.
"This is a life-changing tattoo," Fairchild explained. "It's like the end of their journey. Like, the completion of the process. And so, to be a part of that, to be a positive part of that, it's just really rewarding."
"A lot of times they'll cry," she added. "Or they're just like, 'Oh my god. I can't believe it. I look like me, again.' And it's just really uplifting and rewarding to know that every time you put a tattoo on somebody, they're super stoked about it."