Gia Rose is one of the four new stars of Spike’s newest series — Ink Master: Angels.
Along with the other three, Kelly Doty, Nikki Simpson and Ryan Ashley Malarkey, she was a contestant on Ink Master Season 8 last year.
Gia has worked from the east coast to the west coast, but her 14-year path as a tattoo artist has been far from easy.
In our interview below she tells us how after her apprenticeship and subsequent work in a New Orleans tattoo shop, Gia discovered she had an aggressive form of cervical cancer.
In January of 2014, her world turned upside-down. The diagnosis came when she was uninsured.
Gia now speaks openly about how she turned to social media and harnessed a network of tattoo artists and friends to help her with the costs of cancer treatment she was unprepared to handle.
Thanks to the organization Tattoos Cure Cancer and the generosity of tattoo artists all over the country, she was able to get the best care possible.
Monsters and Critics spoke to Gia about Ink Master: Angels and her battle with the disease.
Monsters and Critics: Hey, where do you tattoo now?
Gia Rose: I just relocated from Philadelphia to [our studio White Oak] in West Chester, Pennsylvania. We had the desire to open up a new tattoo studio and it was just the perfect location.
M&C: I read you did your apprenticeship in North Carolina, can you talk about that and where you went after that?
Gia: Sure, I did an apprenticeship in Asheville, N.C. and it was about a year and…I guess by all attempts, considered [an] apprenticeship.
Back then that’s when you used to make your own needles, and you would make needles for the whole shop as well. People don’t really do that anymore. It used to be one of the very basics of an apprenticeship, learning to tattoo back in those days.
It was really cool, like small-town, and after that I actually went to New Orleans and I worked at another shop called Crescent City Tattoo. This was in 2004, but I don’t think that shop is there anymore. After that I just kind of traveled around the country.
M&C: I just spoke with Kelly Doty and she said that New Orleans was one of her favorite cities for the artistic energy, so what is your favorite city?
Gia: My favorite city is New York. I really like New York City a lot. I still have a spot up there and work with my friend, Megan, in Austin and my husband is from Manhattan, and I always love going up there.
M&C: Has your husband adjusted to your new-found fame…is he taking it all in with you?
Gia: He doesn’t really care (laughs) it just doesn’t faze him or bother him or whatever. He doesn’t really pay attention, but I think that if we could’ve afforded to open up in New York City we would’ve, but there is no way
M&C: Ink Master: Angels is coming. Can you describe it to the fans ahead of air date?
Gia: Yeah, I think that what’s really cool about this show, and that I think sets it apart from a lot of other tattoo shows, if not all of them, is that there’s a lot of tattooing.
It’s more based on the actual tattoos than more character development, which can happen in other shows where you kind of get to know the people throughout the journey.
In this show, you do get to know these people on a smaller level but its more about their tattoos…and like telling stories through tattooing, but then still with a competitive edge, which I think is really cool. So, it somehow combines the best parts of the shows without a lot of fluff or things in between, you know.
M&C: What’s the ratio of men to women in each city that you’re finding?
Gia: I’m trying to remember. I think, for the most part, it’s been pretty equal. We have three artists in each. In some cities it would be like mostly men, but then we had some cities where it would be the women who outnumbered the men. So…yeah, I would say it was kind of equal.
M&C: Which city was the biggest surprise of talent for you?
Gia: I think Miami, Florida. I know there are a lot of really talented artists in Florida, but I didn’t think or expect to get the talent that we did, just because Florida is known for its warmer climate and its beaches you tend to have people who tan a lot and therefore you don’t get the best quality tattoos.
A lot of tattoo artists that are really good can sometimes not flourish as much as they would in more…areas that are prone towards less skin damage.
M&C: Sun really is tattoos’ big enemy right? Does it degrade the ink?
Gia: Yes, and it’s like drawing on a brown-paper bag as opposed to a white piece of paper. It just kind of mutes it all [the colors] so it’s not that that tattooing is of poor quality, because that’s not the case, it’s just harder to showcase what you’re doing because it’s a little harder to see. Does that make sense?
M&C: Yes, the contrast. Switching gears…I know you had a huge health scare and it’s really important that you talk about that, with Obamacare under threat and many people worried about health insurance…
Gia: The biggest thing is that I never thought about health insurance at such a young age. Like, being young, you just assume that health insurance or healthcare, or being concerned about healthcare, is something that’s for older people.
I was diagnosed with cancer at 31, and it was right when Obamacare had gone into law and so I was actually on the brink, right as medical systems were all switching over.
So I was running into the issue that I couldn’t see an oncologist without insurance. I had my pathology that said I had cancer and that it was serious and I needed to see an oncologist, but I am being told by these hospitals that without insurance or an insurance number, they couldn’t get me in to see an oncologist.
I was facing having to just admit myself into an emergency room and then having no control over my care or somehow getting an insurance number, and so that kind of started my journey into the world of health insurance and what states can do for you and what local programs, state programs, and federal programs there are for people.
Health insurance is something that’s very, very important, it’s very sad that it’s a huge part of the medical field, it shouldn’t be. Advocating for yourself is a full-time job and it’s very hard for people to be able to do that.
I like to share my story with as many people as possible, so that people understand what it takes to even get the care that you need, and when you’re facing something like cancer that’s big and scary and so…it’s very easy to just kind of get sucked into where people are telling you to go and what people are telling you to do.
It’s easier for you to just accept the treatments that are given to you rather than holding off and saying ‘Wait a minute, if you have a choice in my care I want second or third or fourth opinions.’
Or ‘I don’t want to see this doctor, I want to see that doctor, and I have every right to do that.’ But a lot of it takes an excessive amount of patience at full cost. I mean when I first was dealing with trying to get a doctor’s appointment with just an oncologist, I had my paperwork lost twice.
I had to call, probably every day for two weeks, and it was nobody’s fault. It’s an overburdened system with a lot of people involved, and sometimes you have to be on it. If people say they are going call you back, you do not wait for that phone call (laughter). Because the chances are you’re not going to hear from them in a very timely manner.
I learned about something that hospitals have called a Nurse Navigator. Nurse navigators are your best friends. Every hospital has one — if you have insurance issues, if you’ve been diagnosed with something, if you just don’t know where to start, you can always request to speak with a nurse navigator, and they are exactly what their name says, they will navigate you through the system.
On a case-by-case basis they’ll get you in touch with social workers, they’ll get you in touch with the correct doctors, they’ll get you everything that you need in order to figure out what it is that you need in order to get what you need, if that makes sense.
M&C: That’s fantastic. I had no idea.
Gia: I didn’t even know about it. The only way I found out about was because I posted about my experience on social media, and it turns out that one of my clients was a surgical step-down nurse at Fox Chase Cancer Center, where I got my treatment from.
She didn’t work in gynecological oncology, but walked over to that department and got the phone number to my nurse navigator at the time, Nurse Cherry, and gave that to me. So the best thing that I know how to give back is to talk openly about it so that maybe the information that I have can help somebody else — with the information that eventually helped me get the best care and to choose the correct care for me.
Because that’s such a personal thing and it’s different for everybody. Because it’s a big scary thing, you don’t expect it and when it happens you are like, ‘What does this mean?’ because even now, like, post-cancer, I’m still dealing with it.
I beat cancer, I no longer have cancer, but I still deal with a lot of physical repercussions that are now lifelong and haven’t, like…you know, the side effects that they don’t talk about which nobody can blame on our medical system, especially with oncologists, you know. Their primary concern is to save your life and to get rid of cancer.
But sometimes the end results of that can be somewhat debilitating. I think that’s the best way that I can give back, is to be very open about it.
M&C: How would you describe your particular style in tattoing? Do you have more than one style?
Gia: Mostly I tattoo what’s considered neo-traditional. It’s a more flexible form of traditional tattooing, or like an offshoot of American traditional so, we use some of the same like, boundaries and rules of American traditional — bold lines, black lines, and kind of flat colors or flat shading — but with more freedom in design so it’s more illustration-based, illustrative-based, so like, you have specifically neo-traditional style with a lot of like, animals and the tentacles.
M&C: What would be the next tattoo that you get personally?
Gia: I’m actually in the process of having a bunch removed as soon as I get cleared by my doctor [laughter].
M&C: How many are you getting removed?
Gia: I’m hopefully getting my entire chest removed.
M&C: By laser?
Gia: Yes, laser removal. I don’t know if I can get it yet, I’m hoping that since one of my chronic conditions post-cancer involves my lymphatic system — I don’t know if it’s going to be possible…we haven’t got there yet, but…right now that’s the only thing on the table. I’m basically trying to remove the 1990s [laughter].
Ink Master: Angels premieres Tuesday, October 3 at 10pm ET/PT on Spike.