By Rachel Belle
An artist, with platinum blond hair, Kim Lavarello looks much younger than her 42 years. But when she was only 37 she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"My twin sister and I were both diagnosed young and we both had double mastectomies [and] reconstruction."
She was lucky to be diagnosed before the cancer spread.
"They suggested, since we were adopted, that we find our genetic history. All the women in our family have been affected by cancer. So I got tested for the genetic mutation for cancer and it was positive. So I knew that I would get a double mastectomy before I got cancer."
She also knew that after her breasts were removed, and reconstructed, that she wanted to get tattoos to cover the scars. She found a trusted tattoo artist, and friend, in Vyvyn Lazonga, owner of Madame Lazonga's Tattoo below the Pike Place Market. A tattoo artist for 39 years, Vyvyn is renown for covering scars with beautiful ink.
"There are more women who have breast cancer and they want to make themselves look beautiful and I think it really helps with their self esteem," Vyvyn says. "It helps them to have a different view of their body, a different image. One that they can be proud of."
Kim says no one would ever know that she lost her breasts, and the tattoos completely cover her scars. You can see her photo below.
Photo by Steven Smalley
"I tend to do more personalized, bigger work," Vivyn says. "It tends to fit the individual. Things usually patterned after nature: turtles and water and flowers and design work. I call it French Rococo."
Kim loves her tattoos, but wasn't she sad to lose her breasts?
"My brain had detached from them a long time ago. As soon as I know what my situation was, what was gonna happen if I didn't do it. I probably would die eventually. I had detached myself from even having them. [I decided] you know what, I'm just going to get reconstruction. I don't know if you've heard Christina Applegate's story? It's just like she said, I'm gonna have the best boobs in the nursing home! And it's true. After reconstruction, they look great, you would not know. They're perfect. They're better than the old ones."
But not everyone has such an easy time with the surgery.
"I got a letter from this guy who was married to a woman who had breast cancer and she had one of her breasts removed," Vyvyn told me. "After that she was never the same. She wouldn't let her husband look at her naked. Later on, she passed away. He wrote me to thank me for the work that I'm doing and said that the world needs it. He says he wishes she would have known about me. I don't know, my heart went out to him."
Kim describes the shop as more of a spa and Vyvyn thinks women feel comfortable having work done by another woman, in a shop without the loud music and gruff guys. And she is able to turn her passion for tattoo into a healing art.
"I feel really blessed that I'm able to do that. It is very personal."
To see a video about Kim & Vyvyn, click here.