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Little Rock tattoo artist restores confidence by recreating nipples for breast cancer survivor

One local tattoo artist is trying to help heal one woman's breast cancer wounds with her ink and a needle.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Editor's note: This story contains some content that may be considered sensitive.

Surviving breast cancer is a battle. Doctors often suggest a mastectomy as the best treatment option. 

While it can be life saving, it leaves behind scars that run deep — both physically and emotionally. That's why one tattoo artist is trying to help heal those wounds with her ink and a needle.

Although there was no family history with breast cancer, 20 years ago, Julie Austin received the news that no woman wants to hear. 

"I did chemo, radiation and I had seven surgeries in two years," Austin said.

Austin made the decision to have a prophylactic mastectomy, which is a surgery to remove one or both breasts, ultimately leading her to breast reconstruction. 

Although she was breast cancer free, Austin said she never took the final step in her recovery journey.

"I think I was just over it at that point," Austin said, referring to also no longer having areolas on her breasts. "Having a small child at the time, I was like, 'We just won't mess with this right now.'"

The universe had a different plan as Austin was placed in the path of Karen Alford, owner of Artistic Permanent Cosmetics. 

"I have been doing this about a year and a half," Alford said, "doing specifically areolas for about a year, but I have been painting for 20. I'm basically taking those skills and am able to do something so meaningful."

In cases where woman lose their nipples because of breast cancer, Alford is able to recreate a nipple and the areola.

"The actual tattooing is about an hour," Alford said. "I have you come in for two hours because we visit, we relax, we do paperwork, we pick out colors. It should be pain free, and so far my ladies have had no pain." 

Alford said to be able to do art and to be able to have it being meaningful, it changes lives.

"We all love looking at art," Alford said, "but to have somebody going through the journey they're going through, and for me to be able to give them that final step, and they're healing.. it means a lot to them but boy it means so, so much to me." 

Austin said when she catches her reflection in the mirror now, she's happy. 

"I'm just like, 'This is amazing,'" Austin said. "How realistic they look is mind bottling."