Beth, who has dozens of tattoos, at the hospital.
@ljohnphoto for Story Half Told
Mother, activist, cancer fighter and tattoo artist Beth Fairchild is gifting areola body art to women — for a very heartwarming reason.
Since 2005, the 38-year-old, who was diagnosed with metastatic or Stage 4 breast cancer three years ago, has tatted hundreds of women who have undergone mastectomies. She hopes her clients can “feel like their old selves,” Fairchild tells Goodhousekeeping.com.
“When women look in the mirror and see some semblance of what their breasts used to look like, it’s so worth it,” she adds. “The women I work with usually start crying, because it’s a very emotional experience.”
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Fairchild has been a tattoo artist since she was 19 and got her first tat, a Japanese kanji character that means “mother,” one year earlier, at age 18.
Her mother — a breast cancer survivor who chose not to reconstruct after undergoing a mastectomy — was actually her inspiration to start giving areola tattoos in the first place.
“I looked at my mom and said to myself, ‘I can fix that and make it look real and natural,’ ” says Fairchild, a mother herself, to two 18-year-old girls. “I saw a real need for it.”
The Greensboro, North Carolina, resident has since met with hundreds of women across the country at her five parlors, where she does other artwork in addition to the very real-looking nipple tattoos.
“Doctors are not tattoo artists, so I just have a sense of what looks real and good,” she explains. “Seeing a client reaction to her tattoo is so heartwarming.”
But, in May 2014, Fairchild began experiencing fatigue and bloating — and she knew the inevitable (her grandmother also had breast cancer) was coming.
“I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, which was devastating,” says Fairchild, who works with Story Half Told to spread awareness about her disease. “Both my mom and grandma had survived their cancer, but I have an expiration date.”
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So, she decided to make the most of her borrowed time — and continued her mission to help women feel comfortable in their own skin. Fairchild, who opted not to have areola tattoos herself, even inked women while she undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
One of those clients is Nancy Sklencar, a 48-year-old Cherry Hill, New Jersey, resident.
Sklencar was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 and underwent a complete single mastectomy. While going through chemo the following year, she decided to reduce the risk of reoccurrence by having her other breast removed. She received permanent implants in both breasts in 2008.
“I never got nipple tattoos, because I was worried that they would not be to my satisfaction, because I didn’t really trust anyone enough to put permanent tattoos on my body,” she tells GoodHousekeeping.com. “I love tattoos, but I just never liked thinking that if I chose something to get tattooed on me at one time in my life, I might regret having gotten it later in life.”
But after seeing Fairchild’s areola work, she decided to take a chance. In June 2016, Sklencar met with the tattoo artist in Philadelphia to get the tattoo — and she couldn’t have been more pleased with the outcome.
“I’ll treasure this beautiful art on my body for as long as I live,” she says. “Beth has truly given me a gift not just of her talent, but a part of herself that lives in me and others to whom she has given herself and her time.
“I will never be able to thank her enough for her part in my life and I love her forever.”
Fairchild, who sits on the board of metastatic breast cancer research nonprofit Metaviver, takes endocrine therapy every day and gets scans every six months to monitor the spread of her cancer.
“I’m stable right now,” she says. “They gave me two years to live when I was diagnosed, and I’ve since passed that, so who knows.
“I’m not happy about dying from breast cancer, but I might as well make the most of my life and help others, while I’m still here.”