Nikki Black: Breast cancer survivor and comedian gets double-mastectomy tattoos to reclaim her body

"I didn't want my pre-cancer body back, but I wanted the body I have to be mine. So many people had put their mark on it."

Kashmira Gander@kashmiragander
Thursday 15 October 2015 22:57
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Aged just 23, comedian Nikki Black was so young when she was diagnosed with breast cancer that the nurse who told her admitted it was hard for her to break the news.

Now 25-years-old and having undergone a double-mastectomy, Ms Black has covered her surgery scars with ornate tattoos to regain control over her body, and has shared the photos in the hope she will give women undergoing similar journeys a positive outlook.

A combination of her age and a lack of family history of the disease meant that neither Ms Black nor her doctor thought the lump in her breast would be cancer.

Nikki as she waits to be tattooed 

"When the woman called and told me I had breast cancer, it was like the wind was taken out of me," Ms Black told The Independent.

"I remember her telling me it was hard for her to tell me I had cancer because I was so young, and thinking, 'Yeah, tell me about it.'"

After the initial shock, Ms Black was faced with the decision of taking chemotherapy, often an exhausting process and intense for patients.

Art helped Ms Black to cope with her treatment. She is pictured here with an Alice in Wonderland 'Drinke Me' bottle painted on her head, symbolising the drugs she took but didn't understand. 

As her tumour was very abnormal and becoming invasive at around nine different points despite her mastectomy, she decided it was the right choice.

Describing the sides-effects of treatment as hell - “my bones would feel like they were made out of fiberglass, just shattering over and over again every time I tried to move a joint” - she found strength in stand-up comedy, art and experimental makeup.

"Humor has absolutely helped me during my experience. I did my first stand up bit about having breast cancer a week after diagnosis, and it was so freeing to be able to laugh at the situation sometimes," she said.

But she soon felt that she had lost control of her body in "so many ways" and said the nature of breast cancer means it is a wrongly sexualised disease.

Comedian Nikki Black before being tattooed

"I literally lost my breasts, lost feeling in parts of my chest, didn't even get to keep my nipples, had to deal with a different type of pain every day and on top of that, it's an extremely sexualised disease.

"I had guys asking me what size I was planning on getting, telling me that they would miss the boobs I had. I had somebody tell me I could probably do fetish porn after I recovered.

Cheap drugs cut breast cancer

"The slogans for breast cancer awareness month are even 'Save Second Base' and 'Save the Tatas'. What about the woman? Why can't we just save women?"

Desperate to reclaim her body and accept her post-cancer self, Ms Black decided to get her first tattoos across the surgery scars on her breasts. When she saw the pattern that Holly Fehnet, her tattooist, sent her, she almost cried at her desk.

"Getting the tattoos for me was a way of taking back control of my body. I didn't want my pre-cancer body back, but I wanted the body I have to be mine. So many people had put their mark on it."

Nikki being tattooed at The Gilded Lily Design

Describing the intricate design she settled on, Ms Black said: "I'm a Pisces, so the fish are representative of that.

"I spent so much time sitting in the ocean leading up to my mastectomy, reading [Japanese author Haruki] Murakami and staring at the horizon, losing myself in something other than the disease, so the fish also remind me of that feeling of surreal timelessness.

"They remind me I have people who love me and I'm in control of my body and my experiences. They remind me I can heal myself."

Ms Black mid-way through her tattoo

Now in remission, Ms Black will require treatment and monitoring for the next five years.

For those dealing with cancer, she simply has the following advice: "Take time for yourself. You're not going to heal right away, so just let yourself feel. Know that you are beautiful and whole."

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