- Associated Press - Monday, October 10, 2016

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) - She’d already had the knot for a year when Judy Lawley first brought it to the attention of her doctor.

When she went in for her annual breast exam, results from her mammogram came back negative.

Her doctor suggested she keep an eye on it and return if it changed.

When her doctor retired, Lawley went to a different doctor, who ordered a breast MRI.

“So that next Sunday, I was in church and I was praying,” Lawley said. “I still didn’t have the results. I said, ‘Just give me the strength for when I get the results.’ “



The next day, she was hit with the news.

“I had breast cancer, actually on both breasts,” Lawley said.

The events that followed just kind of fell into place, she said in an interview with Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (https://bit.ly/2dd28zJ) ahead of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, describing her determination to remove the cancer - even if it meant losing her breasts - and wanting to be “put back together again” using a method many may not connect to cancer recovery - getting tattoos.

Lawley, a nurse, described following up on her initial MRI results indicating cancer. She walked out of the nurses’ station and saw a surgeon sitting by himself going through paperwork.

“He was the surgeon I wanted to see,” she said. “I went up to him and I had printed off the results. I said, ‘Hey, when you get a minute or get done doing what you’re doing, can you look at this?’ So he automatically shuts the chart and looks at it and goes, ‘Is this you?’ I said, ‘Yes sir.’ He looks at it and says, ‘You need to be seen.’”

Thirty minutes later, she sat in the doctor’s office. She got a biopsy and went back to work helping patients.

After getting the results, Lawley and her husband scheduled an appointment for her to have a double mastectomy a few days later.

She sat down with her two children - a seventh-grader and a high school freshman at the time - and told them the news.

They broke down, she said, but she forced herself to control her emotions.

Nancy Horn, one of Lawley’s good friends, said she met Lawley when she was in the ninth month of her treatment.

The women bonded over their health during a Komen-sponsored three-day walk in Dallas.

Having been through breast cancer herself, Horn said she sympathized with what Lawley’s family was going through and she gained a cherished friend.

“She was just really strong,” Horn said. “I couldn’t believe she had been through all she’s been through.”

But Lawley never wallowed in self-pity and she never feared she would die.

“I just wanted to get rid of it,” she said. “I wanted to take care of it right away. I didn’t want to wait longer. I knew I already had the lump for a year. I didn’t know it was cancer at the time. So I was like, ‘I want to get the surgery done ASAP.’ “

Lawley faced it head-on and tried not to look back.

The reconstruction process was long, Lawley said. After having her breasts removed, she went through the process of expanding her skin, part of the reconstruction.

“I really didn’t feel totally put back together until they looked more like regular (breasts),” Lawley said.

So she had her nipples tattooed.

“You know, I’ve heard of people wanting to go and get really elaborate,” Lawley said. “I just wanted them to look like breasts.”

Lawley got hers tattooed through her plastic surgeon, she said.

Mike Diaz, owner of Sunken City Ink, said he used to work in the medical field at one of the local hospitals. Mastectomy tattoos are not a common request in the Lubbock tattoo market, he said.

He suspects many others, like Lawley, get their nipple tattoos from their plastic surgeons during the reconstruction process.

Others choose a different route.

Tray Calderon, owner of Black Door Studio, said he’s received a few requests during his six years tattooing in Lubbock.

The first one he did was four or five years ago for a cancer patient who wanted a cool design but wanted to wait until after her chemotherapy, Calderon said.

“I designed something for her and she liked it,” he said. “We did that one. About two months after that, I had two more come in based off her recommendation. It kind of snowballed.”

The people who visit his shop for mastectomy tattoos are a little different than the average customer, he said.

“And usually they don’t have any tattoos,” Calderon said. “That’s the first one.”

The tattoos are often created over scar tissue or lacerations, he said.

Some women request different designs, he said, but a majority of customers who visit his shop for mastectomy tattoos just want the appearance of nipples.

“It gives them a sense of being whole,” Calderon said. “They want that opportunity to see themselves as the way they were.”

Lawley said that’s why she got hers done.

“It took about a year, and that was the last step - the nipple tattoos,” she said.

Then she started a pill form of chemotherapy, which she got to stop taking in August, she said.

Horn described her friend as humble and open.

“Everything she does, she really wants to do for someone else,” Horn said.

Lawley’s experience with breast cancer is no different - she’s been using it to help other women in similar circumstances.

It hasn’t always been easy to be so open about it, she said, but she’s embraced it.

“Really, it’s just been kind of a God thing the whole way,” Lawley said.

___

Information from: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, https://www.lubbockonline.com

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