A big part of what breast cancer took away from Ray Janeen Stevens for so many years, the Beau Institute of Permanent and Corrective Cosmetics was able to give back to her within one visit.
“It made me feel like a woman again,” Stevens, 50, of Burlington, New Jersey, says of the 3D areola tattoo procedure she had about a year ago on both of her reconstructed breasts.
Even over the phone, Stevens’ bright light shines through. Her voice reminds you that there is good all around. Sharing her story is her way to inspire other breast cancer survivors, and to remind the world that the fight doesn’t stop when you ring the bell after your last treatment.
“When you have cancer, you have something to fight,” says Stevens. “Then you get to ring the bell. After you ring the bell, then what? You go home.”
For five years, between her initial diagnosis and when she first heard about the Beau Institute, Stevens dealt with a loss beyond the physical. “I didn’t feel attractive,” she says. “No one talks about that part.”
For Stevens, the world began to crash on an ordinary Saturday, the day before Father’s Day in 2015. She was on the phone with her cousin when she felt it. “I put my hand on my chest and I felt a lump. The lump was not small. It was obvious,” recalls Stevens. “It was like it happened overnight.”
Stevens was at work on July 17 when she received the call from the doctor’s office informing her that she needed to come into the office. It was a Friday, and she dreaded a long weekend of waiting. She appealed to the nurse to tell her the news.
Stevens heard the words: breast cancer. She remembers sitting at her desk, feeling frightened about the news, and frightened about losing a job she’d just started. She also recalls getting up from her desk, going to the bathroom, making a phone call to a family member, returning to her desk, and finishing the workday.
By the time she saw her doctor, Stevens had already devised what she considered an acceptable game plan in her head, which even included radiation. She remembers thinking, “I got this … God is good,” going into the appointment.
Then her plan fell apart.
Stevens learned she had aggressive stage 3 triple-negative breast cancer, which required chemotherapy. Huge game changer, she remembers thinking. Stevens also found out she tested positive for the BRCA gene, making her more susceptible to pancreatic and ovarian cancer. Her mind was spinning.
From 2015 to 2020, Stevens underwent five surgeries in eight months, including a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy. She lost her hair and gained weight. She experienced anxiety, shortness of breath, joint pain, a change in her eyesight, and constant exhaustion, among other ailments, issues, and disappointments.
The reality of never having biological children hit hard. “I’m adopted and I always wanted to have a child that looked like me,” she says.
It was during a conversation with her dermatologist that Stevens first heard about the Beau Institute, a leading center for training and permanent cosmetic and corrective procedures. She’d already undergone reconstructive breast surgery and mentioned about wanting to have a more natural appearance. “Making that appointment was the first step to being able to look at my body again,” says Stevens.
When Stevens arrived at the Institute for her appointment, two of her girlfriends tagged along for support. She likened the facility to a spa experience.
“From the minute I walked in, the entire experience was so special,” says Stevens. “It made me feel like a woman again. It was wonderful. Every day I am learning to love myself. The tattooing made me feel sexy again. It was a wink from God.”
And post-tattoo, Stevens says, shopping for pretty lingerie is fun again.
For more information about the Beau Institute, visit the website. Read about the upcoming Day of Hope.
Top photo: Bigstock