Whispering Danny of Kansas City, owner of Exile Tattoo, exiletattoo.net, was born in the former Soviet Union. His family was allowed to move to the U.S. when he was 5 so he could get medical treatment for trachea tumors that require surgery every 14 weeks. He has been tattooing in midtown since 1990. Early on in his career he began tattooing areolas and nipples on reconstructed breasts of cancer patients. This conversation took place at the tattoo parlor.
Why did you start doing breast reconstruction tattoos for cancer survivors?
It was in the early ’90s. A young woman came in asking if we did touch-ups. I said, yeah, and asked her what she needed touched up. We went to my station and she showed me two not-well-done hot pink circles where her areolas should have been.
It was not a natural color and she was obviously upset. She had been charged $3,500 for the tattoos, which were done in a doctor’s office, and she had to pay out of pocket because it was considered elective.
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The entire situation in my opinion was taking advantage of someone that already had been through entirely too much.
I redid the entire area because the color was ridiculous. Because she was very involved in the breast cancer survivor world, she knew lots of ladies that were in various stages of reconstruction process, so I started getting a steady trickle of women that needed that service, and I certainly was not going to charge them what they had come to expect, because that was preposterous. I charge them what it costs me.
Over the years I have gained a wonderful relationship with some of the top plastic surgeons and top oncologists in the area.
How did they find out about you?
I presume they saw my work on their patients and were satisfied with it. None of us is benefiting in any way. There are no kickbacks or backdoor billing. We just want these women to be as whole as current technology allows.
Is it boring to do areola tattoos, compared with colorful animal or floral motifs?
No. I get to be the very last phase of a journey that starts off several years before with what sounds like, at first, a death sentence. The many, many steps it takes to finally arrive in my tattoo shop are hard steps.
So I’m a lucky guy. I get to see and celebrate those last couple of steps with the women.
How many reconstruction tattoo clients do you see per week?
It’s sad how many. About seven consultations a week and three to five tattooing appointments.
That’s a lot of not-for-profit work to take on.
This is, in my life, a ministry. This is what I believe in my heart God has placed in my life, because he knows I can do this. It can’t always be about money. You have to help people.