In a hair and beauty salon in Somercotes, beauty therapist Dawn Barlow has combined her experiences of more than 40 years in the beauty industry with her personal breast cancer journey to offer a life-transforming treatment for breast cancer survivors in the local community.
Having started in the industry as a hairdresser, Dawn ventured into semi-permanent tattooing 12 years ago, when a friend who’d had breast cancer expressed her disappointment in the limited options available to recreate a realistic nipple following a mastectomy.
But it was after her own experience with breast cancer that she decided she wanted to give back to others. With the support of the salon – Hair and Beauty at Slimming World – Dawn is giving people the opportunity to put their names in a monthly draw for a chance to win the treatment which uses semi-permanent tattooing to recreate a realistic nipple.
A confidence boosting treatment
Despite having performed the treatment on clients prior to her own diagnosis, having it done herself was life-changing for Dawn.
She explains: “When you’ve had a full mastectomy you’re left with no nipple. Every time I looked in the mirror it stuck out like a sore thumb.
“A friend did mine for me and it just changed things overnight. It just gave me a lot more body confidence back. If I looked in the mirror it wasn’t the first thing I noticed and I now feel confident that if I was in a changing room and somebody looked at me they wouldn’t straight away think, oh she’s had breast cancer.
“I think psychologically and mentally it just makes that difference. I was single at the time so I knew I would be going back into dating at some point. And it’s just everything that makes you feel a bit more confident about yourself.
“I have to admit, after doing it you tend to get a lot of tears. Even when I had my own done I thought, oh I know what to expect, it’s not going to affect me that much. But you know, when you look in the mirror it’s surprising the difference it makes.”
Giving back to support others
Having experienced the mental health impact of it first hand, but aware of the high cost implications – which in some places can be up to £600 – Dawn was keen to make it more accessible to others in Somercotes.
She said: “We’re doing a free treatment every month and at the moment we’re keeping the price down to £150. You can have it done on the NHS but people have been telling me there’s over a two year waiting list because of covid and everything.
“We’re just doing it at cost because I don’t believe after going through something like this you should have to pay so much for a service to make you feel better. As a single woman it’s affected my income and everything, having to have the time off work.”
The salon has been behind Dawn 100% and for every free treatment she does will donate the cost of the treatment to Slimming World’s partner charity Cancer Research UK.
A wider support network
It becomes evident when you talk to Dawn that the treatment itself is only part of the story. The industry in which she works has created a web of people going through the same thing who have been able to support each other.
Dawn said: “I’m quite open about it so I always say to people anything you want to ask me, just ask. I’ve had a lot of ladies coming into the salon that have pulled me over and spoken to me about their own journeys. I’ve had a lot of people reach out because not everybody knows somebody who’s been through it who they can talk to.
“One of the hardest things I’ve found was actually talking to my family about how I felt because I felt like I wanted to protect them.”
The support has also been a two-way street, with Dawn getting support back as well as providing it.
She said: “Because I was already doing the tattoos before I had my diagnosis I’d got friendly with quite a few ladies that had breast cancer so I had a nice little circle of support there which just made such a difference.
“So afterwards I could message them saying is this normal, should this be happening because you feel daft contacting the doctors and the nurses all the time, you know they’re busy. So it’s nice when you’ve got someone you can contact and just say is this supposed to happen.”
Putting the ‘therapist’ in Beauty Therapist
Beyond the subject of cancer, Dawn describes a trust that people place in her when they visit the salon, making them comfortable to share personal worries of all types.
She said: “It’s amazing how many people tell you things they wouldn’t tell their own family. Someone said to me the other day that’s why you’re called a therapist. I didn’t think of it like that. I think we tend to be very good listeners and also it doesn’t go any further. We don’t know family, we don’t talk about people. They confide in you and they can walk away feeling good and it’s nice.”
When we asked Dawn if she enjoys talking to people she laughs.
“You can’t tend to shut me up. Lockdown showed me I’m definitely a people person”, she admits, “I couldn’t wait to get back to work.”
She also outlines the need to tune in to people’s needs.
She said: “I tend to read people a lot. I don’t know if it’s doing the tattooing because you have to really watch people’s body language, you have to be really good at reading what they do want, what they don’t want. Obviously you’ve got to be able to tell if there’s something someone’s not sure on. I’ll say, if you don’t mind telling me, what do you mean by that? And people do tell to tell you. If we can send someone out the door smiling and making them feel a little bit better it’s really nice for us.”
How to find out more
One free treatment is offered every month. Anyone can submit their interest via phone or email between the 1st and 25th of each month. The special person will be drawn at random on the 26th and contacted directly by the team. You can email email@example.com or phone 01773 546382