Barbara Thompson

Barbara Thompson, a breast cancer survivor, had a mastectomy and later paid to have a nipple tattooed. She was featured in a book by Phil Carpenter, called Breast Stories: Cancer Survivors Speak Out. (Courtesy: Phil Carpenter/Fitzhenry & Whiteside Ltd.)

A Halifax tattoo studio is now offering nipple and areola tattooing, free of charge, to breast cancer survivors who have received mastectomies — a move that's being applauded by Breast Cancer Action Nova Scotia.

Newcombes Ink, located on Sackville Street in downtown Halifax, announced the initiative earlier this month.

"I feel like it's the very least that we can do as a business to try to help someone feel comfortable in their own skin because that's what we do every day is try to make people's skin what they want to live in," said Helena Pelletier, an artist at the studio.

"The owner of this shop is really involved in the community, he wants our shop to have a heavy role in just doing good deeds for the community."

While mastectomy patients don't pay for their reconstructive surgeries in Nova Scotia, the tattooing process is not covered.

A tattooed set of nipples can cost hundreds of dollars, according to Breast Cancer Action Nova Scotia.

"That's a big expense when you've gone through breast cancer because you have so many other expenses that you're paying for — parking, extra meals, babysitting," said Barbara Thompson, the executive director of Breast Cancer Action Nova Scotia.

"To have someone recognize that women just want to have this done to feel complete, without having to worry about the cost is absolutely amazing. We're every thankful that these people have offered this."

'I felt whole'

Thompson, who is a breast cancer survivor, has had one of her breasts removed. Several years ago, she paid $150 to have a nipple tattooed.

"To me, it was just about finishing everything. I had gone through such a process to get my breast reconstructed again and I wanted everything to be finished off, really. It took me quite a few years before I got to that point," she told CBC News.

Helena Pelletier

Helena Pelletier is a tattoo artist at Newcombes Ink, where free nipple tattoos are being offered to breast cancer survivors. (CBC)

"I had a few surgeries to get my breast reconstructed and then I had the nipple reconstructed and after that it was just a natural, for me, to have the nipple tattooing done."

Thompson said the psychological benefit was "incredible."

"It just finished everything off. It was just incredible, really. I felt whole for the first time and that was so important in my healing process," she said.

Claire Savard, the manager of Newcombes Ink, said several breast cancer survivors are in consultations with the studio to receive the service. She said it's not a limited time offer and there's no rush.

Pelletier said clients can work with the artists to figure out what they want.

"We would make sure to give you the size of the aerola and nipple that you want. You can really take your time and pick what you want," said Pelletier.