Everyone knows someone who's been impacted by breast cancer. Talking about it isn't easy. Enduring it is painful. And those lucky enough to survive see a body in the mirror that bears the scars of that experience.
Today in the US, about half of all survivors live with post-mastectomy scars. And many of them never get their nipples back. The emotional impact of this can be devastating.
I know because my sister-in-law Molly experienced it first-hand. Fortunately, she had an idea, which would change the game for hers and many others.
Here's the story.
Almost three years ago, Molly told the family that she'd been diagnosed with breast cancer, that she'd soon go under the knife for a double-mastectomy and that she wouldn't ever get her nipples back.
"What, do they draw new ones on in reconstruction?" she asked her doctor.
"Yes, circles -- it's pretty much a tattoo."
With that, Molly -- one of the more creative people I know -- wondered, if she could not get the real thing back, why not rethink what should be there in the first place.
She asked a great reframing question: "What would we do now if we hadn't been doing things this way all along." It's a useful tool for allowing seemingly crazy, but potentially disruptive, ideas a chance to germinate. And this germinated.
The family jumped in, with her five sisters, two brothers, parents and countless annoying in-laws like myself hoping to add some levity. What about a monogram, shamrocks, bottle openers...or headlights, since Molly's sisters said they were on all the time anyway?
As the design ideas flowed, I wondered how many other breast cancer survivors were in Molly's situation. How many resources are available for women who want another option to the standard reconstruction process? And what would it take to give these survivors some of the tools they need to define, on their own terms, what the healing process looks like?
And so began the journey creating P.INK -- a platform on Pinterest that provides breast cancer survivors with tattoo ideas, design inspirations and connections to artists we like.
P.INK was formed as a passion project by a team of people inside CP+B, the global advertising agency I work for. I shared the idea live at an agency town-hall session, pretending to be comfortable talking to nearly 1,000 peers about breasts and nipples. Fortunately, I managed to inspire an army of passionate, world-class creatives into bringing this vision to life.
We did it because we all had too many Mollys in our lives and felt powerless to help them. We saw this as a chance to create something emotionally powerful, sure, but also to make a platform that is actionable if nothing else.
Let's fast forward to 2013.
P.INK has launched at www.p-ink.org, and Molly used a beta version of it to find Miami Beach artist Colby Butler. Inking was a seven-hour process, and her scar-coverage design -- a pernambuco blossom, suggested by Molly's sister (and my wife) Stacia -- is nothing short of stunning.
What makes it personal is that pernambuco is a Brazilian wood known for its resilience and beauty and connects to Molly's time spent in Brazil as an exchange student, making lifelong friends and developing an appreciation for the country and its cultures.
Today, Molly says she can't wait to get to walk around Brazil's beaches -- fully topless and "with reckless abandon." That's a big step for Molly. And a huge one for reframing the conversation on what being a breast cancer survivor has to look like.
In the short time since we've launched P.INK, we've heard heartfelt stories from survivors who have found us, been inspired and who are making plans to get their own tattoos as an act of reclaiming control -- control they haven't had for years.
We've heard from tattoo artists in England, Italy, Canada and the US who all want to be listed because they're well attuned to the idea of tattoos as an act of healing.
And we recently discovered that we've inspired a movement among tattoo artists -- in Brazil of all places -- to donate tattoos to mastectomy patients.
I'm tempted to wrap up with a big call to action: Yes, we need you to spread the word so the Mollys in your life know they have a new option. Yes, we have plans for growth, crowdfunding plans and dreams of a luxury tattoo spa in high-end shopping districts. And yes, we need help bringing these things to life.
But none of that matters today. Because we wouldn't be reading about this if there weren't a survivor with a crazy idea, a family willing to jump in and think for a second that bottle-opener nipple ideas might work and a team of coworkers who want to solve old problems in new ways to make the world a better place.
To them, I say thank you. And to Molly and the survivors who own it -- those who fearlessly face the complications of a body that wasn't what you were promised -- please know that you're inspiring us.
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