Tattoo artist Alexia Cassar at her workplace in Marly-la-Ville (Val-d’Oise), November 21, 2017
With her arms inlaid with peonies and her earrings in the shape of skulls, Alexia Cassar has everything from the tattoo artist. Yet the work of this ex-biologist is nothing ordinary: make a nipple and areola to women who have had a breast rebuilt after cancer.
Since September, women from all over France have followed one another in the boudoir-like „loft“ in the garden of its Marly-la-Ville pavilion, near Paris Roissy airport.
At the starting point of this change of life, „an earthquake“: while she worked for 15 years in the development of new molecules against cancer, Alexia Cassar and her husband learn in 2013 that the „little last“ of their three children have acute leukemia.
„Suddenly, I found myself on the other side of the fence,“ says the forty-year-old with piercing eyes.
She falls one day on the video of an American woman tattooing the monochrome breasts of women returning from cancer who, after ablation, have made the choice to have a breast rebuilt. It is then a „evidence“: „I who always drew, I thought that there was something for me there“.
A tattoo design by Alexia Cassar in Marly-la-Ville, November 21, 2017
The researcher begins by probing oncologists and surgeons. For a year, she then learns the job at a tattoo artist. Then goes to the United States to be trained in trompe-l’oeil tattoo with 3D effect.
Just lack … money. Without really believing it, she launches a crowdfunding campaign: 33,000 euros collected, enough to pay half of the „loft“ and launch.
Just before, her mother and sister offered her a piece of their skin to test her dexterity. „All three of us have a heart-shaped nipple,“ she laughs as she scrolls through innumerable pictures of breasts on her laptop.
– ‚Tired of being charcuter‘ –
Since the start of the school year, in her living room decorated with cacti and other pink flamingos, Alexia Cassar has received about sixty women. On their reconstructed breast, she drew a nipple and areola, almost identical copies of those of the non-sick breast.
„It allowed me to turn the page, to put an end to the reappropriation of my femininity,“ says Aurélie, 41 years old and diagnosed at 37, who was „no longer looking in the mirror“.
The culmination of a four-year process: chemotherapy, removal of the breast (suffered by 20,000 women each year, a rising number), radiotherapy, breast reconstruction … To recreate a nipple, he was offered a transplant with a piece of her healthy nipple. And, for the areola, with the skin of the groin – an operation that is also practiced with tissues taken from the vulva. „Out of the question“ for the young woman, who „was tired of being charcuter“.
Image of a 3D tattoo made on a woman’s breast by Alexia Cassar in Marly-la-Ville near Paris, November 21, 2017
For Nicolas Leymarie, plastic surgeon who welcomed Alexia Cassar in her block, the latter came to fill „a real lack“. „There is a technique of dermo-pigmentation – semi-permanent tattoo, editor’s note – but we have to come back every two to three years and it is not very aesthetic,“ says the doctor who officiates at the same time. Gustave-Roussy Institute of Villejuif. In his eyes, „there is no reason that the tattoo, which offers wonderful results, is not reimbursed“.
Two of the clients of the tattoo artist, who charges 400 euros for her benefit, have obtained a reimbursement of health insurance. And a mutual has also given the green light.
According to her, the success of her business is due to her double hat: „If I had been a simple tattoo artist, I would never have had a badge to go to speak at the Institut Curie“.
Next step: „Train a small number of tattoo artists who would only devote themselves to this task, in connection with local hospitals“.
About the professional tattoos who say they have gone ahead and accuse her of pulling the media coverage to her, she replies: „I looked for them, I did not find them“.