In Burrillville, surgical tech turned tattoo artist aims to help breast cancer survivors feel whole

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BURRILLVILLE – After working with breast cancer patients in hospital operating rooms for nearly two decades, surgical tech Kristen Lanctot has branched out, and has found a way to help women heal in a way that reaches beyond the limits of medicine.

Working inside a specialty beauty services business in Pascoag known as Mindful Aesthetics, Lanctot provides 3D nipple and areola tattooing for women who have undergone a mastectomy.

It’s a specialty field, and not necessarily where the longtime technician imagined herself when she began her career.

“I never thought it was in my scope of practice,” Lanctot told NRI NOW.

A surgical tech for 19 years, Lanctot has spent the past eight at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence.

“We operate on a lot of breast cancer patients,” she said.

While breast reconstruction is part of the surgical procedure at the hospital, it is only in recent years that doctors have begun to recognize that tattooing nipples to replace those removed during surgery is something of its own art form. The final step in reconstruction is sometimes performed by a nurse or esthetician who is not trained in tattooing techniques, and could potentially leave the patient less than thrilled with the outcome.

An experienced tattoo artist, meanwhile, can use shadows and highlights to create texture, and produce results that more closely resemble the original appearance.

Lanctot learned of the field from a surgeon at her hospital who wanted somewhere to refer breast cancer survivors reaching completion of their difficult journey. As a familiar face seen throughout the medical process, Lanctot, who at the time had no training in tattooing or art of any kind, knew she might be able to offer a unique level of comfort.

“I’m with a lot of these women through their entire breast cancer experience,” she said. “They see me in the operating room, so I want to be that friendly face at the end. I kind of know what they’ve been through, because I’ve been through it with them.”

The tech looked into schools that offered training and received certification from Sauler Institute of Tattooing in Pennsylvania. A surgeon then put her in touch with a local tattoo artist who could help her gain experience.

“With a lot of practice, a lot of time and effort, here I am,” she said.

One year later, the passionate – and compassionate – longtime medical worker has found a second calling.

“This is totally different than what I normally do,” Lanctot said. “It’s indescribable – that I’m able to complete this journey for them. I love it so much.”

A Woonsocket native, Lanctot said she happened to cross paths with Mindful Aesthetics owner Rae Aubin, who was looking for someone to offer the service from her village-based business, which recently moved to Burrillville after three years in Chepachet. Lanctot started work at 96 Pascoag Main Street in May.

Now, surgeons she works with at Women & Infants often send her referrals.

And while Aubin offers traditional tattooing, Lanctot has focuses strictly on 3D nipple recreation and scar camouflaging. The field requires both experience with the skin, and an artistic eye for color and detail, and is only offered by a handful of providers in the state.

“Most of them have had radiation,” Lanctot said of her clients. “So many precautions have to be taken.”

October, she notes, is breast cancer awareness month, and Lanctot is hoping to reach out to women who might not know about the services she offers.

“I just want people to know that I’m out there,” she said. “These women have been through complete hell. They feel so incomplete. This, in a sense, completes them again.”

It’s a satisfying second career that ties into her work in the medical field – and a focus on perfection comes with her drive to help others.

“I nitpick everything that I do,” she said. “I’m just so passionate about this.”

The service, she notes, is sometimes covered by insurance, and Lanctot works with clients to try to get reimbursement. As such, a referral letter from a physician is not required, but can be helpful when dealing with insurers.

“Anyone can call me up,” she said.

Lanctot’s services at Mindful Aesthetics are by appointment only, and can be made by calling her directly at (401) 432-4976. Potential clients can check out her work on Instagram @Kristen_at_mindful or visit her website, klmtattoo.com.

For the hard-working technician, it’s a way to offer closure and complete the process for those she already helps on the surgical table.

“Everything all works together,” Lanctot said. “It’s just so special.”

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