BUDDY CHECK 7: Tattoo artist uses gift to help survivors

Buddy Check 7
Buddy Check 7(WSAW)
Published: Feb. 7, 2020 at 3:41 PM CST
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Battling breast cancer can sometimes leave patients with scars and very different breast tissue than what they had before.

But, in Marshfield, one tattoo artist is donating his time and talents to try and restore something lost in the process.

A few years ago, when looking for a bit of something new, tattoo artist Tommy Kirschbaum discovered a truly life-changing talent.

"I just studied it myself. I studied ethnic background, color, male, female. And, I tattooed on this fake skin at my house at night. And, I studied it for like 6 months and I just wasn't really sure how I was going to present it. I just knew, like- if you build it, they'll come," Kirschbaum explained.

He was right. After a happenstance meeting with an employee at Marshfield Clinic, he developed quite a reputation for helping breast cancer survivors feel whole again.

Survivor Kimberly Johnson is one of them. She reflected on her first visit to the shop.

"One of the girls that babysits my children turned 18, came over and she goes, 'I'm getting a tattoo today, you're coming with me.' I'm like...I don't know. What am I going to get? She said, 'you're going to get your nipples tattooed.' And, I said, ok!"

Johnson discovered she had breast cancer at just 31 years old, back in 2015.

After a double mastectomy, some time for healing and a little encouragement, she made the decision to get some ink.

"Getting the nipples tattooed has made me so much more relaxed, so much more comfortable, and very, very positive about life. Like, it's going to be ok," Johnson said.

Kirschbaum added, "It feeds my soul, honestly. Makes me be able to come here and do this everyday."

Kirschbaum performs the nipple tattoos completely free of charge at his Marshfield tattoo shop, The Next Generation of Midwest Tattooers.