BOISE, Idaho — Dannie Nicholson was 37-years-old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a huge blow to the young mom. She had three boys under the age of five at the time.
“When I was first diagnosed at 37, my first thoughts were, I have so much to do. I have these kids to raise, I have a life that I haven't fully fulfilled yet,” Nicholson said.
The Meridian woman moved forward with a mastectomy and treatment, hoping and praying for the best.
After, she knew she wanted to have breast reconstruction. She reached out to Dr. Dinu Mistry, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Boise who is also well-known in the Treasure Valley for specializing in breast reconstruction after mastectomy.
“It all happened very fast, I knew about Dr. Mistry, I knew she was an amazing doctor so I immediately called her and got a consultation,” said Nicholson.
Mistry said the majority of her patients are more than ready to put cancer behind them. Many say they want to feel whole again.
“This is more than just a cosmetic procedure. It gives them light at the end of the tunnel” Mistry said.
Nicholson is one of the lucky ones, a success story. She is now 8 years into remission, and today, she actually works with Mistry.
Nicholson is now a certified areola micropigmentation specialist. She tattoos and restores natural looking areolas on reconstruction patients. She says there was a need here in the Treasure Valley that was not being filled.
“I had looked into doing it for myself and found that there was nobody certified at the time to do it in Boise. I would have to travel. All of my expenses would be out of pocket. I couldn't afford it," Nicholson said.
Nicholson is a graphic artist, and she says the idea came to her while she was in the car. She suddenly knew what she wanted to do with her life, she wanted to get certified.
“I kind of joke about it that I had a God moment, but it's true. I just felt like I should do this, and I should go back to Dr. Mistry and we should do this together," she said.
Nicholson started the process of getting certified but there's even more inspiration to her story.
“Before I was born, amniotic bands wrapped around my arm and cut off circulation and so it caused a lot of tissue damage, caused development damage," Nicholson said. "It wasn’t able to grow completely.”
Her arm has never held her back from doing anything. She told KTVB the story of the first time she met her instructor for certification.
“I sat my hands on the table and she stopped and said. 'Oh no, you can't do this.' I said what do you mean? She said you need both hands to do this. My husband's first response was 'Oh, you haven't met my wife.'" she said. "That is how I handle everything, you teach me, I'll handle the rest."
That was five years ago, and Dannie has now tattooed close to 300 breast cancer survivors.
“She brings that extra something. Dannie has been there done that, so she instantly bonds with people," Dr. Mistry said.
Nicholson says her services are typically covered by health insurance.
“Her patients, all patients, they deserve this," she said. "They deserve someone who is working in a practitioner’s office so they can be covered by insurance, the doctor's office can submit their claims, so they are not doing that work for themselves. It doesn't seem overwhelming and there are no obstacles to having it done."
Nicholson says she looks forward to her patients seeing the finished product. She says it’s a powerful and emotional moment.
“When they see the finished work they are always emotional because they don't see their scars anymore and they see something whole. It's emotional for me to even talk about it," she said.
Nicholson says through her own battle with cancer, she found her purpose. She says she finally feels fulfilled.
“I felt like this is what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to use my artistic talent that I've been blessed with, and my story, and my experience with cancer," Nicholson said. "So, in the possibility that my cancer comes back, which is always in every survivor's mind, I don't have feelings that I didn't make use of my time and I didn't help somebody. Now, I know I've had the opportunity to bring meaning to my life and I've used it."
WARNING (GRAPHIC CONTENT AND NOT SAFE FOR WORK): To see a before and after comparison of the artist’s realistic areola tattoos, click here.
Watch more '7's Hero'
See them all in our YouTube playlist here: