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'They Made Me Feel Like a Whole Person'

The Beau Institute in Mount Laurel offers breast cancer survivors a chance at closure following surgery.

As an oncology nurse, Claire Marino had seen many women go through breast cancer surgery and reconstructive surgery afterward.

Going through the process herself was an entirely different experience. While the surgery—a bilateral mastectomy—was successful, Marino, of Havertown, PA, said the healing process following reconstruction was as much mental as physical.

“Waking up every morning and seeing two surgery scars is awful,” she said.

But a television news report led her to the Beau Institute in Mount Laurel, which specializes in permanent and corrective cosmetics, and its Day of Hope—a free program designed to help breast cancer survivors in one small, simple way.

With a little ink and shading, practitioners at the institute not only took away some of the shock of the scarring, they gave Marino closure via areola tattooing.

“I can't even begin to tell you the difference it makes,” Marino said. “They made me feel like a whole person.”

With another Day of Hope—which offers the tattooing at no cost—coming up at the end of the month, Rose Marie Beauchemin, the Beau Institute’s founder, said she’s hoping to help as many as 16 women in a single day with the procedure.

“It’s just been so rewarding,” she said. “We try to make it a fun day—they come here to get pretty, and to feel pretty.”

Many are like Marino, Beauchemin said—finished with surgery and free of cancer, but either haven’t taken that final step or can’t bring themselves to consider one more procedure.

“They wouldn’t get one more thing done,” Beauchemin said. “They’d just had it—they’d been through chemo, they’d been through surgery, they’d been through reconstruction … they just said no more.”

Having seen what the tattooing entailed via the institute’s website, Marino called the actual experience “wonderful.”

“They're so welcoming ... so comforting,” she said.

Creating that environment of support is just as important as the tattoos themselves, Beauchemin said. All of it is designed to help women get past the trauma of cancer and restore their self-confidence.

“It’s our way of giving back,” she said. “Anything that we can do to bring them back and restore that confidence and that familiarity is what we’re about.”

Now eight months removed from getting her tattoos, Marino volunteers at Bryn Mawr Hospital, where she helps women going through the same circumstances, and continues to attend support group meetings for breast cancer survivors—and in both cases, she’s able to give those she talks with some insight into the option of tattooing versus getting a graft.

“I don't have a problem showing all the women,” she said with a laugh. “I don't think people know about [tattooing]—it needs to be publicized.”

The next Day of Hope is Jan. 29, and women interested in getting involved should contact the Beau Institute at 888-763-2328 to pre-register. Participants have to be medically cleared for the procedure.

More information is also available on the institute’s website, beauinstitute.com

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