P.INK-spiration: Crowdfunding Tattoos for Breast Cancer Survivors

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Very personal INK

The Back Story: When Noel Franus's sister-in-law Molly underwent a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer a little over three years ago, she received an additional, somewhat surprising piece of news: As part of the process, she'd also be losing both of her nipples.

The doctors told Molly they could tattoo her reconstructed breasts with realistic-looking nipples, but the idea didn't appeal. The word “tattoo,” however, stuck in Molly's head.

“She said, ‘Well, if I'm going to have a tattoo anyway, why not completely rethink what's going to be there in the first place?” says Franus, VP and experience director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Boulder.

Molly, always a creative person, reached out to her family for suggestions of what to include in her chest tattoo. “One idea was a shamrock, another was headlights because she's always being accused of leaving her headlights on,” Franus says. Ultimately Molly decided on a highly detailed Pernambuco blossom to represent her love of Brazil.

Franus realized Molly couldn't possibly be the only woman in this situation. In fact, there are roughly 2.6 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. alone. Following surgery, more than half of these women are left with mastectomy scars, often no nipples, and, in many cases, a severe loss of body confidence.

It was that insight that helped spark the idea behind P.INK, or “personal INK,” a Pinterest-based platform and nonprofit organization that brings tattoo artists together with post-op breast cancer survivors looking for an alternative healing option.

The Strategy: Franus brought his idea to CP+B, which immediately put its support behind the project. After examining the landscape and researching how to proceed, Pinterest was quickly identified as the ideal platform to host P.INK for two main reasons: One, the bulk of Pinterest's user base, and the majority of P.INK's target audience, is female; and two, there's no reason to reinvent the wheel. P-ink.org/ redirects to P.INK's Pinterest page.

“Pinterest is a frictionless way for us to leverage a platform this audience is already using, which is why we didn't see the need to create a P.INK website,” Franus says. “We're serving up images and telling stories, so I can't imagine a more directly appropriate way than Pinterest to hit our audience.”

The pinboards tell a narrative and the order in which they appear across the page is intentional, Franus says. The goal is to be appealing, sharable, and in context for any visitor, whether that person be a hardcore fan or a newbie to the P.INK experience.

One board, entitled “Pinterviews,” contains long-form graphical interviews with survivors; another board, “Get Inspired,” features a growing collection of post-mastectomy tattoo design ideas.

“We keep the content fresh and we try to make it something other than the same darned thing you see all the time,” Franus says. “We're trying to rethink what you can do on Pinterest and take it to new, interesting places.”

The Creative: To expand P.INK's reach, Franus and his team launched “P.INK Day” on Indiegogo with the aim of raising $25,000 to fund post-mastectomy tattoos for 10 survivors at a parlor in Brooklyn on October 21.

Although one woman couldn't make it at the last minute, nine survivors were paired with nine talented tattoo artists, each of who was gifted with the tattoo of a lifetime. The money raised went to pay the tattoo artists for their time. “It's volunteer, but we wanted to pay them because we feel that great art is worth paying for.”

The energy in the room was electric, Franus says.  “It was also amazing to hear things like, ‘Now the mirror is my friend again.' A lot of these women told us they actually have a hard time keeping their shirts on now!” he says. “It's a big change from the, and this is an understatement, lack of confidence, many survivors felt in how they looked before.”

Franus hopes to make P.INK Day into an annual event. “In an ideal world, we'd have one day every year where qualified tattoo artists all over the planet would offer their services to survivors for free in any state and in any country.”

The Results: The P.INK pinboards, which have 2,750+ followers, currently feature more than 1,000 tattoo designs from over 40 artists around the world. P.INK video content on YouTube, including a launch video featuring Molly in both English and Portuguese and a video promoting P.INK Day (watch above), garnered more than 76,000 views in about a month. That number jumped to 1.7 million just a little over a week after Molly's video was posted to viral social sharing site Upworthy. CP+B raised in excess of $21,000 for P.INK Day through Indiegogo.

The Reaction: The feedback from survivors and artists alike speaks for itself.

As one survivor put it after participating in P.INK Day: “I no longer cringe inside myself. Instead I feel liberation. And ease and joy. It's remarkable.”

Another said simply, “It was magical!”

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