Utah tattoo artist helps breast cancer survivors regain confidence through art

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Courtesy of Fallen Angel Tattoo

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Getting a tattoo is nothing new for Jennifer Galloway. The mother of two is already quite inked throughout her entire body.

Her left arm bears the names of her daughters. Her right arm holds an assortment of flowers, crowns, and other items she enjoys. She has a large tattoo on her thigh, one of her favorites is the pair of lips on her neck, which was taken from a kiss that her grandmother, who was never without her red lipstick, left for her on a piece of paper before her death.

The one she’s working on finishing right now with the help of Terrina Francis, who owns Fallen Angel, the only all-women tattoo shop in the state, will probably be the most meaningful though.

Francis is about halfway through putting an intricate design on Galloway’s chest, working to build a beautiful homage to her journey after a double mastectomy drastically altered her appearance.

“We’re not complete, but even after the first session, it was such a dramatic change,” Galloway explains, through tears, of the large piece of art taking shape on her chest. “It was the first time in years that I actually felt at home with my body, and not just parts of my body.”

Diagnosed with cancer in both of her breasts in 2015, Galloway has endured around 10 different surgeries on her chest. The scars, scar tissue, and loss of femininity that remained in the wake of double-digit operations, left her feeling heartbreakingly upset at how much cancer had taken from her. It was an unpleasant reminder of an incredibly difficult period in her life.

“The disproportion I guess, is what bothers me, and the memories,” she describes to ABC4.com “When I look at myself in the mirror, I usually look from the neck up or the waist down because it just was not a happy time for me.”

Such feelings are common for women who have survived breast cancer, Francis knows that well. An artist and tattoo shop owner for the last 15 years, Francis has spent the last six or seven years specializing in mastectomy tattoos. She’s done a number of different projects for embattled women, including nipple pigmentation and reconstruction as well as full chest pieces.

One of her favorites was a clamshell bra of sorts that she made for a client who wanted to feel like a mermaid.

Helping women regain the confidence that may have been taken from them in the wake of a bout with breast cancer, has been the most rewarding part of the job for Francis.

“Society and everything make women feel like their hair and their breasts is what makes them beautiful and when they go through cancer, and they lose their hair and they have to have their breasts cut off and it’s, it’s traumatizing for them,” she explains. “To be able to make them feel beautiful again is the most amazing gift.”

Breast cancer, which according to 2021 estimates from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, will affect over 281,000 women this year, hit home for Francis when her aunt passed away from the disease in 2001. Since beginning to offer her services to other affected women in the community, she has seen the illness take a toll on women from every background imaginable. The impact can vary as well.

“It’s a mix of women from all walks of life because cancer doesn’t really discriminate,” Francis states. “What they’re left with after the surgery varies a lot too. Some women, it doesn’t look too bad and they just need new nipples and that’s it. Some women are very disfigured and just putting new nipples on is not going to fix it at all.”

While building and fostering an atypical tattoo shop experience, where clients are welcomed into a conservative and understanding atmosphere, with an all-female staff, Francis noticed that for many women in need a tattoo on their chest, the financial burden was sometimes too much.

To help the women who had already been through so much receive a bit of help in getting some confidence-boosting tattoo work, Francis is working to establish a slush fund of donations from other cancer survivors, looking to help the next one receive new ink.

The donations have already been pouring in. Galloway, who has had a series of recent unexpected financial hits, was the fund’s first recipient.

It was a huge relief.

“Her getting those funds and me being able to continue without having to pause and put a waiting period in between, has made a big difference,” Galloways says, explaining that now she and Francis can better monitor the way her skin, which has varying textures and thickness due to the surgeries, heals in between tattooing session. “I really thought that I was going to have one side down and a year later I was going to have to start the next side.”

In a couple of months, Galloway’s chest piece, adorned with a skull to reflect her brush with mortality, roses to represent her grandmother, and pearls for a dash of her feminine side, will be complete.

Both women are looking forward to that day when Francis’ tattoo equipment lifts off Galloway’s skin for the last time, leaving something beautiful where something painful once lay. Francis knows the feeling of completing a tattoo for a cancer survivor, it’s always a joyous occasion at Fallen Angel.

“It’s amazing. It’s happy tears at the end of it and everyone’s crying. The studio is full of happy tears and a woman saying ‘Thank you for making me beautiful again.’ It’s amazing.”

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