Post-mastectomy restoration set in ink

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WALLA WALLA — Sharon LeFore believes no woman should have to bear every mark of breast cancer.

The owner of LeFore’s Skin Care & Health Spa on Poplar Street has seen the ravages of radical surgeries to remove the cancer, she said.

“Breasts get it pretty bad,” she said. “They take all the fatty tissue out and take even the nipple off.”

In the business of beauty, helping restore a woman’s feeling of dignity and femininity is one of the most important things she does, LeFore said. She has been a permanent-makeup practitioner for several years — tattooing in eyebrows, creating permanent eyeliner, adding color or volume to lips.

In 2009, she attended a boot camp that introduced her to breast restoration via micropigmentation, the process of adding permanent color under the skin to create in dye what the appearance of what surgery has removed.

In most cases, women who have had mastectomies have opted for breast implants of silicone to recreate a natural shape and feel. In that case, the surgeon twists and sutures a flap of skin to make the nipple mound once the reconstruction surgery has healed.

While the post-reconstruction patient is left with something that looks real from the outside of her clothes, underneath everything is skin-colored and there is some scarring, LeFore said. That’s when it is time for the final step.

Using equipment similar to tattoo work, she mixes a range of dye colors to customize a color that is as close as possible to how the areola — the more-heavily pigmented ring surrounding the nipple — looked before.

“‘Baby Lips’ is my favorite color,” LeFore said, setting out five bottles that look much like craft paint in varying pinkish tones.

As well, she lays out a areola template, with circles from dime- to biscuit-cutter size.

“I always encourage them to start small, I can always add,” she aid.

One client was so happy with her new look, LeFore said, she returned asking for larger areolas. “She loved it.”

With a trio of tattoo needles, LeFore begins the job of injecting pinpricks of color under the skin, evenly saturating the area. The process takes two sessions, the second devoted to adding any needed color and definition.

There can be discomfort, but pain is rare, she said.

Micropigmentation is generally recognized as relatively easy and safe, according to a study published by the National Institutes of Health. However, a number of infections can be transmitted from one patient to another if precautions for sterilization of instruments used for micropigmentation are not followed.

Health insurance usually pays for the procedure, said LeFore spa manager Vikki Foxe.

“In most cases, reconstruction of the nipple and areola are considered to be the final step of post-mastectomy breast reconstruction,” she said. “Therefore, by law, the costs would be covered. And we bill the insurance.”

It’s never been about money for LeFore.

“I was raised to do for others,” she said. “That’s what makes me whole. I want women to feel better about themselves. Women just need to know what to do for themselves.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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