The last surgery I am to have, the final dollop in my cancer sundae, is the creation of nipples. A nip, as it's known in cancerland, is the cherry on top of a scarred mound of ice cream, without which the dessert is not complete.
It's a minor surgery, but one that requires anesthesia. A false nipple is made out of skin from another part of your body (in my case, my doctor said the stomach) and then once that is stable, tattoos are done to make it appear that you have an areola.
Many women, however, stall at this point. Including me. The idea of one more surgery isn't appealing - at all. Women who have had double mastectomies sometimes even prefer their nipple-less state - being able to go braless without having to worry about turning the headlights on is a real plus for them. Once you have them done, your headlights are on all the time. Doubles have to decide - lights or no lights?
I, on the other hand, only had a single mastectomy. Each time I look in the mirror, it appears that my body is winking at me.
Maybe it is.
Would having the nipple/areolas done help stop that visual?
Now that the initial swelling has gone down, the breast mound does not look as good as it did immediately post-surgery. There is some rippling along the sides and lumps where the scar is puckering it. I'm still okay with it since I got my wish - to look normal in clothing. But, I'm not convinced that adding a decoration to it will improve it any. As it is now, my breast mound is a dignified reminder of my struggle to survive and not a piece of art. Perhaps adding a nipple on that would be like craggy-faced actor, Sam Elliot, putting on a dress and lipstick. Just wrong.
I also don't know if I want to go through more surgery, especially now that it appears I might have to have shoulder surgery too. Adding a nipple is purely elective - being able to use your arm? Not so much.
And, to add insult to injury, apparently, you have to put some sort of plastic cone over your newly created nipple while it heals, and how on earth do you hide that? I picture one of those cones you put on a dog's head to keep it from licking open an injury, mentally project that onto my breast mound and then imagine putting a shirt on and going to work in a high school - and I'm a lot less excited about it than I should be.
There are alternatives: instead of surgically building a nipple, some women have 3D tattoos that appear to be of a nipple and an areola, but which are smooth. That doesn't really work for us Unis though.
So, do I or don't I? Do I get a nipple recreation with an areola tattoo, or not?
The deciding factor might be this: I am dying to ask my future grandchildren if they want to see granny's tattoo.
Yes, I'm evil.
Once it's done, it's permanent. So, I was very excited to come across a product that will help me decide. They are called rub-on nipples and they are designed specifically for mastectomy patients.
Remember as a kid you'd get a tweety bird tattoo in your box of crackerjacks, wet it and rub it on your arm to shock your friends with your bad-ass new tat? But, you could never get the water right and it would sort of be tweety's beak and feet and if you were lucky, maybe a wing, and the rest would just peel and crumble off?
Well, this product is similar to that, only not similar at all. First, to my recall, they never put nipple/areola complex tattoos in cracker jacks.
Second, these work much, much better.
I got two assorted variety packs in colors I thought might be right for me, and went to town.
I can honestly say, this product works beautifully. They solved the problem of crumbling rub-ons - you wet it and it's on perfectly. And, it doesn't come off at all, which is magic. It really looks like a tattoo, or like your skin coloring - like it's permanent.
It's also annoying because my first attempt was so wrong. I didn't follow the instructions, which suggested you cut the tattoo into a circle for better placement. I took the square, imagined where I thought the nipple would be, and wet it with a washcloth.
I now have a nipple very close to my cleavage. This would not be disturbing, except it looks exactly like a nipple and it's very strange when in the wrong place. You can remove it with rubbing alcohol, which I don't have, so I'm walking around with a cockeyed nipple. When I look in the mirror, I'm getting cross-eyed stares rather than winks.
Not sure that's an improvement.
My mother always told me to go out with clean underwear in case I got in an accident, and not only did I take her advice to heart, I never leave my house without imagining that I'll be hit by a bus. If I die with this nipple in the wrong place, I'll be so embarrassed.
I'm going to hit the store today and get some alcohol and try again. Maybe I'll send my husband. "Honey, I need some rubbing alcohol to get my nipple off before I get hit by a bus."
Even though I haven't gotten it perfect (yet), I can only blame my ADD impatience in not following the directions. I highly recommend this product, for many reasons. It helps us Uni's decide if we want to have the surgery - a harder decision for us because we never will match perfectly. At least, with this, we can get an idea if adding a nipple/areola complex will highlight the mismatch or mask it. It will help you Doubles decide on color and placement for your permanent nips/tats. And, because it is such an easy and yet effective product, it might just put a tattoo artist out of business. With this product, you can change it up and have a pale pink cherry one day and a nice brown one the next. I know, if I was a double, I'd probably stay bare and just use these for fun. Implants may not be permanent, but tattoos are, and being me, I always think to the future. That perfectly placed nip/tat in 2011 might be way off in 2021.
The place to get them is: http://tattooednipples.com/ They are $20.00 for the variety pack. I recommend starting with that because the colors look a bit different on your skin than in the package. (A little darker from my one test; maybe that's because I tan.) Each variety pack comes with two colors and you get 8 tattoos total. The website says they last two weeks, and while I haven't tried one for that long yet, I tend to believe them as everything else they said was right on the money.
I like them.
In fact, I'm thinking of putting one on my shoulder - just for fun.
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I live with metastatic breast cancer. .
I was diagnosed 2009 with Stage 2 Her2+ breast cancer. Mastectomy followed, 6 rounds of chemo and a year of herceptin. A few months after I finished, cancer was found in my liver-incurable. I've done chemo after chemo, has my liver partially removed and did cyber knife radiation. Like all metsters, I'll be on treatment until I die.
I'm a former High School Secretary, wife, and mother of two great sons.
To read my entire cancer story, go to www.butdoctorihatepink.com and find the post called "What the heck is that?" on September 2, 2009, or look at the top of the blog and click on "chronological posts". (Some issues with the feed on that but it will get you started). If you are a blogger who can give me a link, I'd appreciate it very much. To email me, click on my profile and you'll find a email addy. I answer every email from a cancer patient. Also like my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Facebook. I'm butdoctorihatepink on Instagram and @butdocihatepink on Twitter. Like me while you can!