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Everyday Hero: Local tattoo artist covers mastectomy scars

Mary Jane Haake/ KATU News photo

Mary Jane Haake is one of only two tattoo artists on the west coast specializing in tattoos that cover mastectomy scars who is covered by health insurance.

Alicia Duncan was diagnosed with breast cancer in her late 20s and had both breasts removed in a double mastectomy six years ago. Her spouse, Angela, encouraged her to meet with Haake.

"As she said to us the first time she met us, 'I can't take away your scars, but I'll cover it up. And that's what she did for my wife,'" Angela Duncan said.

Alicia's tattoos now cover most of her upper chest, and honor two women who were important in her life.

"I picked two birds for my grandmothers who helped raise me. One is with a ribbon, an ALS ribbon that my one grandmother passed from and the other one is an Alzheimer's type ribbon that my other grandmother passed from," Alicia Duncan said. "I cannot believe this is me now and I actually had those scars. I don't remember them much anymore."

Haake said she learned the art of medical tattooing from legendary Portland tattoo artist Bert Grimm, who learned how to hide scars for wounded war veterans.

Haake estimates she has given tattoos to thousands of women, and by persevering, she was able to get skeptical health providers to pay for them. Eventually she got a call from Providence.

"They wanted to know how much malpractice insurance I carried. And I said I carry $2 million. She said how many claims a year do you get? I said, I'm a tattoo artist who would sue me? Yeah, I've never been sued. And she said, You're our girl," Haake said.

She runs several businesses, including Hip Hemp, an online and brick and mortar store.

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