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Australian Tattooist Gifting Breast Cancer Survivors New Nipples

When Peter 'Bones' Bone saw a need, he filled it.

After tattooing on and off since the age of 17, throughout service in the military and police force, he saw no reason why his skills shouldn't translate to realistic nipple tattoos.

"It was brought up by a client about four years ago now," he told 10 daily.

"They expressed interest in having it done but they hadn’t been able to find anywhere to have it done, and they’d also heard that there was a great deal of cost involved. So I said I was happy to give it a go."

Image: Survivors Ink Facebook

As well as running a tattoo studio in Canberra, Bones is the founder of Survivors Ink -- a non-profit charity offering 3D, realistic tattooed nipples for women who have had their own removed during breast cancer treatment or as part of preventative surgeries.

He's tattooed around 600 women to date, and is expecting to see upwards of 450 more this year alone.

For most women, an appointment with Bones is the final stage of their breast cancer journey.

But as he'll tell you, every story told in his chair is different.

"I found out I was BRCA1 positive," Amanda Ernster Isenberg told 10 daily, a little under a week after visiting Bones' studio.

It's known as the breast cancer gene, when mutated BRCA is no longer effective at working to prevent breast cancer. Those who carry a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, like Isenberg, are therefore more likely to develop the disease.

The Sydney mother-of-three had an 85 percent chance of developing breast cancer before she decided to undergo a preventative bilateral mastectomy -- the removal of both breasts -- in 2017.

"I found out I had such a high risk and decided to avoid the diagnosis," she said.

"So for me, this meeting with the legend Peter Bone was the actual completion of the journey. Now I feel like I'm whole again."

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Realistic 3D nipple tattooing is a rare and typically expensive service most commonly performed by cosmetic tattoo artists.

Bones, operating off fundraising and donations, does it for free.

"I got quoted $1,100 to have it done by a cosmetic artist as opposed to a tattoo artist," Isenberg said.

"And that's after a private health fund rebate. For so many women that $1, 100 is just totally unachievable on top of everything they've already spent on their treatment."

Survivors Ink raises funds at Summernats and the Australian Tattoo Expo, and travels across the country.

Having just finished up the Sydney leg of this year's tour, Bones will make his way to the country's capital cities and regional centres including Alice Springs and Bathurst.

The process of having nipples tattooed on recently reconstructed breasts is a deeply private and potentially confronting experience, Tabitha Visinko told 10 daily, more than five months on from her appointment.

Like Isenberg, Visinko made the decision to undergo a preventative bilateral mastectomy due to a high risk of future diagnosis.

"For me, it wasn't a matter of if, but when, I was going to be diagnosed," she said.

“Bones was just so accommodating to the point where I just cried on the phone. I couldn’t believe that a man could be so, so generous to give his time.

“It’s like a lovely little gift, that support at a very emotional time.”

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Despite initial concerns about being tattooed in a traditional tattoo parlor, where privacy may be a concern, Visinko said the process was very comfortable.

Survivors Ink sponsor Dr. Pickles also provides clients with free antiseptic after-care treatments.

Bones said it's common for people to assume his reason for offering his time and services comes from personal experience -- perhaps an affected sister or cousin-- but it's much more pragmatic than that.

"I do it because I can," he said simply.

"That might sound like an arrogant answer, but I do it because I can.”

Contact the author vquested@networkten.com.au