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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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.

 

Reflections on Survivor Stories: Geri Moran, Arnold Roufa & Ted Brown

When you make it to the “other side,” you feel the need to grab as many others’ hands as you can who are also fighting the disease and take them with you.






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Survivor Story: Arnold Roufa of Nyack

Peter D. Kramer wrote this inspiring profile of Arnold Roufa for the Sunday Life section of Oct. 9, 2011:

If you’ve been to Nyack recently, you’ve likely seen Arnold Rou­fa’s panoramic photo of the village adorning the “Welcome to Nyack” banner.

The retired ob/gyn — who goes by the name “Roufa,” not Dr. Roufa or Arnold Roufa — has had three wives and three lives, one of them touched deeply by breast cancer.

First, he was married with children. That marriage ended in divorce.

Then came his marriage to Myrna March, a R&B-pop singer-songwriter whose talent still causes him to speak in hushed tones. For 22 of their 24 years of marriage, March battled cancer, in one breast, then the other, succumbing to lung cancer in 1998.

The next year, Roufa married Arlene Levine, his high-school sweetheart from New Orleans. They live on the Hudson in Nyack, where he pursues a passion that drives his third life: photography.

Here’s the wrinkle, though: In that middle life, 20 years ago — as he watched March battle cancer, Roufa himself was diagnosed with breast cancer, a diagnosis that is extremely rare in men. Fewer than 1 percent of breast-cancer cases each year are in men.

By the time of his 1991 surgery — on stage 1 cancer in his right breast — Roufa had lived with March’s cancer for 17 years.

His surgeon found the cancer after operating on Roufa for gynecomastia, a painful swelling of his breasts that was a side effect of ulcer medication he was taking. The surgery was on a Friday. The following Monday, the surgeon asked Roufa to come to the office.

“I’ll never forget that day,” he recalls. “It was horrible. He told me I had cancer. I was not thinking cancer, although I had been living cancer since 1974 with my wife. It hit me.”

As a gynecologist, Roufa had examined thousands of women, urging his patients to be proactive about breast cancer.

Doctor became patient. He had his right breast removed and chemotherapy.

Being a man with a disease that primarily affects women didn’t affect his ego.

“Men have breasts,” Rou­fa says.

What took its toll was watching March endure years of doctors, diagnoses and more doctors.

There were dark times.

“As Myrna was going through more things, I would take her tranquilizers. I would take my tranquilizers and sneak liquor. To me, it killed the pain. But it didn’t kill the pain of what she was going through.”

There were also laugh-out-loud times.

After her first mastectomy, March insisted on going to a hospital affair, wearing a prosthesis. When a brash man at the bar complimented her breasts, “she took out her prosthesis and threw it at him,” Roufa says with a laugh. “That’s how she was.”

Twenty years later, long retired, Roufa shared 10 things he took away from his battle with cancer. Read them, after the jump.

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Upcoming Stories and Chats in The Journal News This Month

We had enlightening and informative live chat today with Dr. Andrew Ashikari, a surgical oncologist affiliated with the Ashikari Breast Center in the Dobbs Ferry Pavilion of St. John’s Riverside Hospital and the Ashikari Breast Center at Hudson Valley Hospital Center in Cortlandt Manor. Click here to see a link of the archive of the Q&A.

We’ll be doing two more chats this month:

Oct. 16: Young women and breast cancer: Local women, all diagnosed under age 40, talk about the unique challenges that they faced during their illness.

Oct. 23: What to do — and what not to do — when a loved one gets cancer: Survivors give their best advice on how to help.

We’ll have links to them from this blog and our homepage at LoHud.com. Don’t miss them!

Survivor Story: Geri Moran of Elmsford

Heather Salerno has this story about Geri Moran of Elmsford from Sunday’s Journal News:

Though some might not see having breast cancer as lucky, Elmsford’s Geri Moran, a 23-year survivor, knows exactly how much good fortune she’s had throughout her journey with the illness.

Her luck started when she went to her doctor in 1988 to investigate a shooting pain in her right breast. The doctor was convinced that the cause was a benign cyst, but he insisted that she go for a mammogram just to be sure. He was right about the cyst, but the mammogram also picked up a tiny tumor in the other breast.

“It was in a small space, in a duct, that made it more dangerous,” says Moran, who was a 40-year-old single mother when she was first diagnosed. “By the time I would have felt it, I would have been dead.”

Photos by Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News

Instead, her cancer was detected at Stage 1, early enough that it hadn’t spread. She had a mastectomy to remove the tumor, but she and her oncologist decided that she didn’t need further treatment like chemotherapy, radiation or other cancer-fighting drugs. Since then, she’s needed no additional therapies —nor has she had a recurrence of the disease.

“I always say I’m the luckiest person in the world,” says Moran.

So she found a way to give back, creating small cloth dolls called “Wish and Worry Angels.” They’re designed to bring comfort to those in need — the idea is to let the angel take care of your troubles — and Moran has given away hundreds over the years.

Many have gone to patients seeking help at Support Connection, the Yorktown Heights-based organization that offers services to those with breast and ovarian cancer. (She also sells them at the online marketplace Etsy.com, with a portion of the proceeds going to Support Connection and Operation Smile, a charity that provides free surgeries to children around the world with facial deformities.)

“Every time I sit down and say, ‘I’m not doing these angels anymore, nobody needs them,’ someone calls and says they want one for someone they know that’s sick,” she says.

There are plenty of other ways that breast cancer changed Geri Moran’s life. After the jump, here are 10 more examples of how the disease has impacted her:

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Breast Cancer Myth Busters: There are lots of misconceptions about breast cancer. Arm yourself with facts

Journal News writer Bill Cary tackles the myths surrounding breast cancer in this week’s Sunday Life cover story as part of our ongoing coverage of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here’s the story as it appeared in print:

Everyone seems to know someone touched by breast cancer. It’s a disease that will be diagnosed in one in eight women during their lifetimes, according to the American Cancer Society, but it reaches far deeper into families and friendships, as loved ones and acquaintances often come face to face with cancer for the first time.

Along with that awareness, however, comes lots of second-hand information and anecdotes about how best to prevent breast cancer, plus a steady and often contradictory stream of information in the media about the latest advances in medicine and treatments.

Add in the inherent dangers of turning to the Internet for medical advice and you’re bound to get a wealth of sort-of truths and outright misinformation.

To help separate fact from myth, we asked local doctors and breast cancer experts to address 10 myths that are among the most prevalent misconceptions they hear from their patients. Their answers, after the jump.

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React Here: How are you finding support?

I feel like I’m miss the experience of a Betty Handelman putting her hand on mine over a cup of tea and sharing a quote from one of her scrapbooks. Sure, Betty could easily post it onto my Facebook wall, but is that enough when you’re fighting breast cancer?






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