Meet the Leeds tattoo artists helping people with scars regain confidence

Breast cancer is gruelling enough before the psychological damage it is capable of inflicting beyond recovery is even considered.

Mastectomies can be lifesaving procedures but they can leave lasting scars of both the physical and psychological kind.

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Scars can of course be caused by a variety of factors other than breast cancer but regardless of the background behind them, the psychological toll can be heavy.

In Leeds, tattoo artists Kate Challinor and Louis Santos are using their skills to restore confidence in those with scars and help people be more accepting of their own bodies. Credit: Tony Johnson

In Leeds, tattoo artists Kate Challinor and Louis Santos are using their skills to restore confidence in those with scars and help people be more accepting of their own bodies.

"Every single one of them has got a journey," Kippax-based Kate said. "It's about trying to beautify and give them that self-confidence back and that self-belief.

"It's a beautiful thing and it works. It's just so incredible."

Kate does not charge survivors of breast cancer for her providing of mastectomy and breast reconstruction tattoos.

Although Kate and Louis may have been influenced by different factors, their burning desire to help others and lend support is something they have in common. Credit: Simon Hulme

She is currently working with the leader of the Pontefract and District Breast Cancer Support Group to create a calendar showing off survivors and their tattoos to raise funds for the group.

Louis has his own studio in the city centre and offers free tattoos to anyone with scarring caused by past illnesses, including breast cancer.

"I've got an aunty in Brazil and she's a doctor," Louis said. " I was speaking to her and saying I would love to do something to help people but I just don't know how.

"I felt l like my job isn't like a doctor that cures people or a teacher that teaches, or a firefighter that saves peoples lives. My job is more a luxury sort of thing.

"My aunty does operations on people and she said 'you can't heal them physically but you can heal them with the psychological side, mentally'.

"They've gone through this problem and they look at the scar everyday, psychologically they're still wounded. You can cure that - not physically but psychologically, and I thought that was a nice idea."

Kate has had battles with illnesses herself, undergoing around 10 surgeries across 10 years and being wheelchair-bound.

As a result, she has a comprehensive understanding of the healing power art possesses.

"I really use my art as a way of improving myself, as part of my rehabilitation," she explained. "I'm one of these annoying people that always tries to turn a negative into a positive."

One woman in particular stands out in Kate's memory as being the one that truly made her realise how much of an impact her work can have.

"I remember one lady, she really made me realise what an impact it has," Kate said. "It's difficult to know what some people are feeling and she was quite a strong Scottish woman.

"She just burst into tears when she looked in the mirror and saw the tattoo. She just said 'it's the first time I've been able to look at myself in the mirror in years'.

"I didn't realise the impact it has and it was so encouraging."

Kate has not undergone a mastectomy herself but her passion for helping those who have has been fuelled by her own experiences with self-consciousness.

"I think this is coming from a personal feeling," she said. "I haven't had a boob removed but absolutely do I know what it is like to be a woman and feel so self-conscious because of something we've had to go through.

"It's the feeling of satisfaction and being able to give back, I absolutely love doing it and these women are amazing."

Although Kate and Louis may have been influenced by different factors, their burning desire to help others and lend support is something they have in common.

"I feel like we are all her to serve to, to help," Louis said. "Giving, for me, feels better than taking. I do have to make a living to pay my bills but if I can help, I will.

"I'm a very spiritual person and spiritually it's very good, it's rewarding."

For more information, visit the Challinor Body Art and Louis Santos Tattoo websites.