Saturday, January 29, 2011


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: 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.

"Hey kids, want to see granny's tattoo?"



  1. I have a friend who had double mx and reconstruction surgery. I don't know all the terms and verbage, bear with me here. But when she had her nipples done, they made some X or star cuts in the centre of each breast and (I think) put a stitch in to hold it up a bit. They healed like a small puckered lump on each breast. She then had the nipple and areola tatooed and I've got to tell you they look great....if only my real nipples were that nice!!

  2. Ann, I loved this post. I am a double and had reconstruction two years ago; one side is my belly and the other is an implant. The side with the implant still has an areola, but no nipple (it died and fell off, but I don't know where; it might've fallen off in the shower or in my pjs. Someday, I'll put together my collection of boob jokes and I'm calling it, "Pardon me, have you seen my nipple?"). There's nothing on the right side. I keep thinking I'll get tattooed when I reach stable disease, but it's been two years and I haven't achieved it yet. So, then I think I won't bother with it and will instead get a tattoo around the TRAM flap scar. Anyway, I loved your description of not placing the nipple correctly . . . and will definitely look into these temporary tats! : )

  3. Ann - I have been following your post for quite some time and felt compelled to write. My advice - don't do the nipple. I had a double with one nipple left on my good side. I wish I researched about the tattos you are talking about. I had the areola made with a skin graft and a nipple made. I was told initially the nipple would be large and then shrink down to about 1/3. Well, it was huge. I had it done the week before Thanksgiving and it has shrunk a lot, but not enough for me. If you are not a lights on person all the time, then don't do it. I have to put those bathing suit liners in to suppress the "lights on" syndrome even with a slightly padded bra. Of course, my doctor said she usually sees more shrinkage on a radiated breast, but not on me. I truly enjoy your posts.

  4. Thanks! I'm kind of leaning towards not doing it right now. They really are not the same at all and I think the fake nip makes it look very uneven. We'll see what my PS says but I'm leaning towards no.

  5. If you don't get the nipples done, you're like Moses wandering around the desert for 40 years but you never quite ...

    I vote for the nipples!

    But research first and talk to many patients who've had it done.

  6. Thank you for sharing! I had a right breaat mastectomy July 2010 ans due to high lymph node involvement, I just finished chemo now and need to head into 5 weeks radiation before I can even get my reconstruction done. I always assumed I'd do it all, including a nipple, but now your post has me wondering if it's worth it....I'm as vain as the next person but if one more surgery is nbot worth it....please keep us posted!

  7. thanks for sharing, you truly are inspiring in your openness.

  8. OMG! I was in hysterics reading your post today. The tattoo near your cleavage was almost too much -- I could barely talk I was laughing so hard (I was reading this aloud to my husband). I'm not giving you any advice. You're perfectly capable of making up your own mind, of this I have NO doubt. I've got to show this website to my sister. She'll just fall over. -Megan-

  9. I'm passing on the nips, myself. After seeing two friends go through that surgery only to have them flatten weeks later, and even more surgery beyond that to fix the flat ones (and now they hold their breath), I say, it is merely cosmetic and we have seen one too many Hollywood beauty seekers receive too much plastic surgery and never obtain the results they seek and look more freakish than normal. And yes, it is permanent. I love the tattoo idea, though. If only for some sense of normalcy when you step out of the shower every morning. Thanks for sharing about those! And thanks for another good laugh!

  10. Is there any kind of, I don't know what they call it in Hollywood, prosthetic that could be applied for the times when you want a hint of nipple through your clothes? You know, like the warts and such you can glue on for Halloween? I'm not trying to be funny or facetious, just wondering if there's something on the market that is 3-D but temporary.

  11. Ann, I enjoyed reading this amusing post on a serious topic. I gotta decide on this stuff too at some point. I'm a double. I'm still totally undecided. My plastic surgeon told me one of his friends invented a stick on nipple, so I might ask him more about those too. It's just such a darn awkward topic. Have you visited If not, I'm inviting you. Thanks.

  12. Just wanted to share my 2 cents. I was 30 when I had a double mastectomy. I'm now 32 and I had nipple reconstruction last fall.

    I am SO HAPPY that I did it. My surgeon really listened to what I wanted as far as areola size and nipple protrusion. A few weeks ago I got some tattooing done (by my surgeon) on the nipple to add some color definition.

    Not all surgeons use the same techniques and I agree that some people may not be happy with their results. I am very fortunate to have incredible results.

    The stick on silicone nipples are REALLY GOOD! They are from Amoena and come in 2 sizes and multiple colors. I think I paid about $40 for them at a mastectomy boutique, but you can order them online for less.

  13. Such a great idea for all of the reasons you listed above. Thank you for sharing this information. I had never heard of this option before. I will be sure to pass it along.

    Best Wishes,
    Lauren (

  14. I think it is a good idea after two mastectomy ... the first time the breast is reconstructed and how many times can you go on with that process.

  15. I'm also making this decision, and am leaning toward getting my single mastectomy side a nip to match my remaining one. My challenge is that my one good nip is on the large side as a result of breastfeeding for two years. I'm actually looking into a new nipple-implant type thing from Cook technologies. It's in clinical trial stage just now. I don't want to go through another surgery to have the thing flatten out a little later or really at any point. Let's get this once and done. So we'll see.... I've still got to figure out how to get this covered by insurance and who has enough experience to do the surgery. Good luck with your decision!

  16. loved this post. good luck with your decision.

  17. I had a double mastectomy with reconstruction, and I did think about not getting the tatoos. But in the end, I got all conventional, and did it. It was a lot harder pyschologically because it was yet another surgery, and it wasn't too pretty for awhile.

    Of course, I can always brag that I have tatoos!!

  18. I have been following your blog for some time now - finally posting a comment! I loved that you blogged about this topic - your added humor is wonderful. I am just now at the point of considering my options as well. Just not sure what to do. Guess I need to make that appointment with my plastic surgeon and check out those options!


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