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Local cancer survivor turns national 'Ink Master' (Photos)

Tuesday - 2/18/2014, 6:00am  ET

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Halo says he was more than 300 pounds when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. (WTOP/Alicia Lozano)
  • Gallery: (29 images)

SEVERN, Md. -- A young woman holding a picture of a rose and a clock settles into a leather chair at Black Lotus Tattoo Gallery in Severn, Md.

Her upper arm is already covered in fresh line work featuring the name "Milo" inscribed in the center.

"It's my son's name," says Andrea Wolfe.

The Maryland woman is back for her second sitting with Halo, who owns the studio and also is starring in the new season of "Ink Master" on Spike TV.

"I saw his portfolio on Instagram and knew it had to be him," Wolfe says.

But Halo is more than just another tattoo artist. He is also a cancer survivor.

In face, he had been tattooing for more than eight years when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. At the time, he weighed 320 pounds and had a 56-inch waist.

After undergoing emergency surgery, Halo's doctors told him he would have to undergo chemotherapy and take up to a year off work to fully beat his cancer. The prospect of not working was almost as upsetting as the cancer itself, he says.

"If I don't tattoo, I've literally got nothing," he says.

Instead of following doctors' orders, the Maryland artist decided to change his lifestyle and live more cleanly via Gerson Therapy, which substitutes chemical cancer treatment with a natural, organic diet.

Halo is now celebrating 11 months of being cancer-free.

"I've lost 115 pounds, 18 belt sizes and feel amazing," he says.

"In a way, tattooing saved my life."

Halo says he met many cancer survivors and their loved ones over the years who sought his tattooing skills to commemorate their own uphill battles.

He was inspired by their stories, and borrowed some of that strength to first beat cancer and then to appear on "Ink Master" just a few months later.

"It was time for a new challenge," Halo says of his decision to compete on the show.

"I'm always down to challenge myself and do more and try to be more."

But it took some convincing before Halo agreed to be on "Ink Master." He was recommended for the show by three different artists before he finally said yes.

"Being in the tattoo community, you hear a lot of flak about the show," he says.

The biggest complaint from other professionals is that the contestants on "Ink Master" don't reflect the best of the industry, he says. In other words, they're not good enough.

"But then, why don't the people who are good go on the show?" he asks.

"If you're a good artist, then put your money where your mouth is and show them how it's supposed to be done."

Once Halo warmed up to "Ink Master," the veteran artist found himself learning new skills from the contestants and judges. The challenges forced him to reevaluate his professional style and approach tattoos from a different angle, he says.

"When you have to put yourself out there for the world's scrutiny, it makes you second-guess the things you're doing," he says. "Just that is one of the biggest helps I could have had."

Despite years of experience, Halo is in the process of removing tattoos from both his arms. One remains covered in fresh scabs, a reminder of his less scrupulous days, he says.

But once the old tattoos are gone, Halo plans to replace them with new sleeves showcasing "real art."

"Be sure to check portfolios," he warns anyone in the market for new ink.

"Tattooing is so subjective. ... Make sure you know what you're getting into."

Catch Halo on the new season of "Ink Master." He will also be hosting viewing parties throughout the season that are open to the public. Click here for more information.

And see some of his artwork below:

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