Yonkers tattoo artist colors in the details after breast cancer surgery

This story by features writer Heather Salerno ran in Life & Style on Oct. 21.  Photo by Tania Savayan.

Carrie Pataky enters an exam room at a plastic surgeon’s office in Scarsdale and introduces herself to Constance Rogers , who wears a thin, blue paper gown that covers her chest.

As Pataky unpacks equipment from a small rolling suitcase — squeeze bottles of ink, a hand-held, electric machine, sterile needles, powder-free latex gloves — she offers to share her iced coffee with Rogers, and the two begin an easy conversation about the procedure that’s about to take place.

It won’t take very long, about 15 minutes or so. And Rogers shouldn’t feel any pain, just some vibration from the machine.

“I hope I just feel better,” says Rogers, 52, a divorced mother of two and Poughkeepsie resident, who was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. “That it gives me back confidence.”

That is Pataky’s job as a tattoo artist, one with a unique talent for making survivors like Rogers feel beautiful again. Women have come from as far away as England to see the 44-year-old Yonkers native, who has built a solid niche tattooing nipples and areolas on women after breast cancer surgery.

For these women, Pataky is the last step in a long, harrowing journey through treatment and recovery. She’s giving them an exceptional gift: their self-esteem, and with that, the ability to move forward with their lives.

Even with full nipple reconstruction, a post-mastectomy patient’s breasts lack the skin pigmentation that makes them look completely natural. Some survivors say it’s like looking at a blank canvas; others have described their breasts as a face with no features.

Over the last six years, Pataky has worked on more than 500 women. Her specialty is rare among tattoo artists; most often specially trained nurses in a surgeon’s office — or even the doctors themselves — are the ones doing the areola tattoos.

Pataky says other tattoo artists have told her that they entered the field because they wanted to create art‚ not areolas.

“I believe if we have a skill and a talent in putting ink on the skin, we should use it the best we can, for whatever we can,” says Pataky. “Whether it’s putting a flower on you…or giving you areolas.”

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Breast cancer talismans bring smiles, ease pain

Here’s a story by Karen Croke that ran in the Life & Style section on Oct. 11. Photos by Tania Savayan.

Call them good luck charms, or talismans, or simply smile inducers on the darkest of days, but for those facing treatment for breast cancer, sometimes the simplest things make all the difference.

For Bonnie Draeger, Hope and Grace come in handy. While recovering from bilateral breast cancer, Draeger, the author of “When Cancer Strikes A Friend,” (Skyhorse), carried a set of two pink teddy bears given to her by a friend named Karen.

“The first was named ‘Hope’ and she arrived shortly after my initial diagnosis,” says Draeger, a long-time White Plains resident, who had the bears along at a recent visit to the Dickstein Cancer Center. “When a second cancer was discovered a month later, Karen gave me a second bear that I named ‘Grace’ as I would need a great deal of grace to handle two different breast cancers at once,” she says.

Her surgeon asked if Draeger wanted to take the bears into surgery with her. She declined, although at a crucial moment, she says, “they did remind me to face cancer with hope and grace each and every day throughout my recovery.”

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A mother’s choice

Here’s a story that ran in Sunday’s Life & Style section by reporter Heather Salerno. All photos are by Tania Savayan.

A mother’s choice: Allison Gilbert tests positive for breast cancer gene, makes life-altering decision

Irvington’s Allison Gilbert knows exactly what the human face of cancer looks like.

It’s the face of her grandmother, Henny, who died of breast cancer when Gilbert was a little girl. It’s the face of her mother, Lynn, who died of ovarian cancer in 1996. It’s also the face of her father, Sidney, who died of lung cancer five years later, leaving Gilbert an adult orphan at 31.

A few years after losing her dad, Gilbert discovered that this disease’s attack on her family wasn’t random: It’s a tragic birthright. Testing showed that she inherited a mutation in a gene called BRCA1, which drastically increases her chance of getting breast cancer, ovarian cancer or both. In fact, she was told that — without intervention — the odds of developing breast cancer in her lifetime were as much as 85 percent.

That revelation increased Gilbert’s fear that she might die young like her relatives, leaving her husband, Mark Weintraub, and their two children – Jake, now 12, and Lexi, 10 — behind. In 2007, with her family complete, she underwent surgery to remove her healthy ovaries — a decision The Journal News chronicled — and she continued to see doctors every three months for a breast exam, mammogram, sonogram or MRI, in order to catch breast cancer in an early stage. With each appointment, though, there was the potential for a dreadful diagnosis.

Gilbert had another option besides careful surveillance: another prophylactic, or preventive, surgery. Removing both still-healthy breasts would reduce her odds of getting breast cancer to about 1 percent, far lower than the average woman, whose lifetime risk is about 12 percent.

The Journal News caught up with the 42-year-old this year, after she made the decision to go forward with that operation, and followed her throughout the surgical process, in real time and on Facebook. The move, she hopes, will keep her around for Jake and Lexi for a very long time.

“I’m trying to make this a parenting decision,” she says. “It’s really about my kids. Even though it’s my body, I feel it’s really more about them than it’s about me.”



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Given her family history, it’s a choice that Gilbert knew she’d have to make eventually. But for her, the turning point came in 2008, when her beloved aunt, Ronnie, her mother’s sister, told the family that she, too, had an aggressive form of breast cancer. She passed away barely three months later.

“It was a hard death,” says Gilbert. “Sometime shortly thereafter I went on the warpath.”

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A Survivor’s Story and more breast cancer awareness coverage

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and tomorrow, The Journal News begins its annual special coverage of this important topic with a story  about South Salem’s Rica Mendes, who blogged about her personal struggle with the disease for us last year.

Reporter Linda Lombroso writes a moving update on Rica’s condition: It’s one you won’t want to miss. And we’ll continue to post new information here all month.

But in the meantime, we thought we’d share links to stories we’ve published in the past, which have plenty of useful information – whether you’re a survivor yourself or know someone with the illness.

Beyond breast cancer: Rica Mendes continues to battle, and share, her courageous story.

Helping Hands: The best advice for what to do – and what not to do – comes from those battling breast cancer themselves.

Young women with breast cancer face unique challenges.

Breast cancer myth busters: There are a lot of misconceptions about breast cancer. Arm yourself with facts.

Fighting breast cancer in a down economy: A safety net exists in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam.


I’m Living Strong.

When my oncologist, Dr. Isadore Tepler, told me that my Oncotype test indicated that I scored a 21, my heart sunk… The good news was that the Taxotere-Cytoxen combination meant very few side effects. In fact, there was only one guaranteed side effect: Absolute hair loss. Complete baldness. I’d be a hairless, 2-legged, tail-less cat.

I took things into my own hands this weekend at the LIVESTRONG Challenge in Austin, TX. Breast cancer may have taken my breasts, but it’s not taking my hair.

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Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in Purchase this Sunday, October 16

Ten years ago, I helped to organize a corporate team for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. I did it as a volunteer for my company as a fun, charitable event. It’s taken me 10 years to realize the significance of the day. It only takes a couple of hours to walk in the sun with dozens of survivors, caretakers, loved ones and supporters. I encourage you all to take part.

– Rica Mendes

Thousands of walkers including breast cancer survivors, volunteers, businesses and community members will unite to fight breast cancer and save lives at the American Cancer Society¹s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk – a noncompetitive, inspirational walk that raises awareness and funds to fight breast cancer and provide hope to all people facing the disease.

Westchester County’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk is one of more than 250 walks being held across the country this year.

Manhattanville College
2900 Purchase Street
Purchase, NY 10577-2132


Sunday, October 16, 2011
Registration starts at 8am.
The walk begins at 10am

WHY: More pink for your green. The generosity of Westchester residents means a whole lot of pink ­ the next big breast cancer research breakthrough; free lodging for breast cancer patients when treatment is far from home; free rides to and from treatment for cancer patients needing a lift; and most importantly, more pink means 2.5 million breast cancer survivors who will celebrate another birthday this year.

IMAGINE: Thousands of walkers hugging, rejoicing, crying and walking to support area survivors in the fight against breast cancer. Interviews will be available with cancer survivors (look for pink T-shirts with “survivor” on the back), Making Strides Against Breast Cancer participants and local American Cancer Society staff and volunteers.

CONTACT: For more information about the American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk, visit
www.cancer.org/stridesonline or call 1.800.227.2345

Is this what I have to look forward to?

Are a breast cancer patient’s tissue expanders a viable threat to national security? How far is too far?

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