Lebanese tattoo artist helps breast cancer survivors to heal

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For Lebanese breast cancer survivor Roula Saad, a decade-long struggle with the disease was not over until tattoo artist Joa Antoun concealed her surgical scars, helping her deal with the physical and psychological impact of a double mastectomy.

“I hated looking at myself in the mirror, I changed a lot. I felt I was forced to live in a state of grief, I was mourning my femininity and the loss of part of my body,” Saad said. “I was not reconciled with myself at all, nor with my own image.”

The mother of two now proudly wears her tattoo designs as a testament to her victory over the disease. She described it as a therapeutic and life-changing experience, adding: “It was like being born again.”

In addition to offering tattoos to conceal surgical scars,tattoo artist Antoun, 31, has also been offering free nipple tattoos, designed to look three-dimensional.

Often in their 50s, many of the women she works with were reluctant at first, she said, reflecting social taboos in Lebanon.

“They thought that it was not worth it, that it was too late for them. But getting these tattoos is becoming more normalised and accepted,” added Antoun, who also helped survivors of the2020 Beirut port explosion cover their scars with tattoos.

Marie-Therese Chamma, a 52-year-old who had treatment, said shedding her hair and losing weight was not as troubling for her as losing her breasts to the disease.
“I looked at myself and could see the scars … I could not fully accept what was happening to me, but told myself I can always change things after finishing (treatment),” she said.

After viewing Antoun’s website, she decided to seek her help: “I was very hesitant but I felt that she is aware of how we feel and of our fears so I called and took an appointment.”