By Gale Fiege Herald Writer
MARYSVILLE — Happy isn’t a word Denise Gallardo typically uses to describe herself.
In fact, she feels the emotion only cautiously.
It’s been a rough life.
Gallardo, 51, is the mother of eight children, ages 32 to 8. She moved to Marysville from Portland, Ore., in 2005 pregnant, with 1-year-old twins, following the end of an abusive relationship. Three years ago she learned she had breast cancer. Within two weeks, she had a double mastectomy. The surgery left deep scars.
Now her favorite flower — a gardenia — is tattooed across her chest.
“I’ve aged so much since I had the surgical biopsy that found my breast cancer,” said Gallardo, who wears a size 2. “After the surgery, I looked like a young boy who’d been in an accident. The scars were deep. Now I feel like a girl again.”
Because she had no support system, and with young children in the house, Gallardo decided against reconstructive surgery. It was out of the question, she said.
“I couldn’t handle any more,” Gallardo said. “I had kept to myself for so long, I had no one to care for my kids.”
Financially, she couldn’t afford the surgery anyway. Gallardo suffers from a curvature of the spine and lives on a disability check.
“I really felt bad about myself,” she said.
One thing that helped, however, was that Gallardo got involved in volunteering in three classrooms at her children’s elementary school in Marysville. She also serves as a PTA officer.
“It’s been great therapy for me,” Gallardo said. “I’m always trying to get people to volunteer in the schools. It makes such a big difference.”
In March, Gallardo’s cousin Maureen Snow talked about a photo circulating on Facebook. In the picture, a woman with a mastectomy shows off her new chest tattoo.
“I told Maureen that I would feel so much better about myself if I had something like that,” Gallardo said. “But, again, tattoos are expensive and not something that I could consider getting for myself.”
Earlier this month, Gene Fagerlie, owner of Geno’s All About the Ink studio on State Street in north Marysville, phoned Gallardo.
“I told her that I had been contacted by her cousin and that we wanted her to come in and get a tattoo, free of charge,” Fagerlie said. “I bought the studio in January and I want to be part of our community. I donate to services for kids. I make people feel welcome here. That we help other people is important to me.”
Gallardo couldn’t believe the offer.
“I kept saying, ‘Are you sure?’ I didn’t want to take advantage of anybody,” she said. “I am not used to good things happening to me.”
Fagerlie’s friend and business partner Addison Carver volunteered to give Gallardo her tattoo. Carver, 49, a longtime artist, had training in cosmetic tattoos. He and Gallardo met to decide on the theme for the artwork Carver would design.
“I couldn’t even look at myself,” Gallardo said. “So I wondered how this guy was going to deal with the scars. He was so sweet. I can still hear Addison saying, ‘There’s no such thing as an ugly canvas.’ He was the first person to see me without a shirt since my surgery.”
On April 8, Carver locked the door, shut the shop blinds and turned off the ‘Open’ sign. Gallardo was his only client for the day.
“He didn’t give me a chance to get up and run,” Gallardo said. “He just kept working.”
It took almost six hours to do the job, which would have cost a paying customer about $400.
“Every now and then a person like Denise deserves a break,” Carver said. “She has already been through so much in her life.”
Gallardo said she is pleased with the results.
“The tattoo is bigger and prettier than I hoped for and it’s hard to see the scars,” she said. “I am so thankful to Geno and Addison. It is good to know that our world is filled with good people.”
Gallardo said her mood is vastly improved.
“Happy is still a word that scares me,” she said. “But I am getting there, especially now.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.