A Waikato woman who has overcome two types of cancer is giving back by helping other women who’ve battled breast cancer.

As the founder of Lady Ink Cosmetic Tattooing, Debbie Casson helps women who have been through breast reconstruction surgery for breast cancer, by performing cosmetic nipple tattooing – something she says helps give women their self-esteem and confidence back after a tough journey.

Around 2800 New Zealand women and 20 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.

One in nine women will get breast cancer in their lifetime and, as a cancer survivor herself, Debbie strives to help promote breast cancer awareness and offers a range of services for women who have been through breast cancer. 

“Making women feel whole again, and their reaction when they first look at themselves in the mirror, it really is the cherry on top,” says Debbie.

Diagnosed with two forms of cancer in the space of a week in 2012, Debbie had a rare type of sinus cancer, and then just days later was diagnosed with breast cancer following a routine mammogram.

As a survivor, she understands the emotions of what cosmetic nipple tattooing can mean to a woman after undergoing breast reconstruction, along with chemotherapy and radiation.

After being diagnosed, Debbie, a former nail technician, joined Shocking Pink – a nationwide charity for woman diagnosed with cancer, aged 45 years and younger.

The charity group has a huge impact on the women involved through an online support system and grants. As well, Shocking Pink hosts an annual retreat in both the North Island and South Island for women to attend, meet each other and form friendships.

Debbie now helps run the charity as one of three trustees. However, being a part of Shocking Pink is what led her to train in cosmetic tattooing.

Talking to women within the group, Debbie realised how financially out-of-reach it was to get areola tattooing done after breast cancer.

The nipple repigmentation and 3D nipple cosmetic tattooing service that she offers helps post- mastectomy patients by creating the appearance of an areola after nipple reconstruction, or a 3D nipple can be created by shading with pigments giving the 3D effect.

“It gives me so much joy seeing the difference it makes in women’s lives and it makes me want to carry on doing what I’m doing,” Debbie said.

As part of her training, she also learnt to do eyebrows, eyeliner and lips. Chemotherapy can often result in loss of eyebrows and hair.

“There is sometimes a need for cosmetic eyebrow tattooing after treatment as they don’t always grow back. Women then think about lips and eye liners as their treat afterwards as well,” says Debbie.

She also specialises in scar camouflage, to help with scarring after surgeries or other skin issues.

For her clients, knowing that Debbie is a survivor herself and has been where they are, helps them feel more relaxed when they come in and tell their story to her.