Monday, November 29, 2010

A Question of Nipples

"When do you want to do nipples?"

The words hang in the air of my plastic surgeon's office.  Echoing endlessly in my ears because no matter how much I think about it, no matter how ready I claim to be about this portion of reconstruction, nothing prepares me for hearing those words in an actual sentence.  A question spoken so casually, as if I was asked what I wanted for lunch... It's not that simple. The question comes at me as if I had an answer.  That's the weird part.  How could any person possibly have an answer to that question? You don't just get used to the idea of new nipples.  

I had to get used to the idea of a bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction.  When all my options were weighed, it actually wasn't that difficult, but nipple reconstruction?  I'm shaking my head even now in disbelief, although, disbelief doesn't truly describe what I feel.  I believe it.  I know it's coming, yet I find it impossible to wrap my brain around it. Young girls don't grow up dreaming of new nipples one day.  I doubt that's something anyone does.

***Brothers and/or father may want to stop reading here.

Nipple.  It's a silly word, isn't it?  It's not a word that commands a lot of respect.  I keep picturing a big cartoon baby bottle with a huge rubber nipple stretched over the top.  That's how I see it now, but if I try hard enough, I can remember how mine used to look before cancer took them away.  They were nice.  One of the few body parts I actually liked.  A good shade of pink, not too large, not too small.  Just right.  But, they're gone and I'd rather not think too much about what I've lost.  I'm supposed to look forward and think about what I'm gaining.  After all, I keep hearing how nipple reconstruction is the icing on the cake.  How the hard part is over, the final step has arrived.  I'm about to be "done."

Well, that's what I hear, but here's what I know.  I'm not comfortable with the whole scenario.  I don't like the process, being awake while my surgeon cuts and manipulates skin to create nipples where before there were none. Not to mention the grape-like size I'd have to endure while healing and waiting for the inevitable shrinkage.  I also, don't believe the end result looks that great.  Perhaps somewhere, in some far off distant imaginary world, there's a resemblance to a woman's nipples, but not by much.
  
I'm wavering though because ultimately, breasts should have nipples, right? I have to decide.  I can't remain in this boob limbo forever, where implants are done, but finishing touches are left off...can I?  If I'm uncomfortable with the idea, why get nipples?  Do I move forward or stand still?

Not surprisingly, neither option is a clear winner.  It's not that I don't want to be finished with this mess.  I do.  It's hard to look in the mirror and see all the scarring and if nipple reconstruction with the eventual areola tattooing can make it look a bit better, then I want it, but despite having silicone implants, aka "fake boobs" and accepting them, the nipple thing, seems more fake...faker.  A plastic cherry topping a wedding cake.

I think the real question here is not whether I should do the nipples, but why I can't accept what I have, if I feel this way?  Why the need to reach some man-made stop sign?  So, I can use it as a springboard to the rest of my life?  "Nips and tats done, must be ready to move on."  I should be able to do that regardless.  Apparently, I still have some thinking to do.

Any thoughts on this from those that have done it... or not?

7 comments:

  1. For what it's worth, I had the full nipple reconstruction about five years ago. The recovery was quite painful (this is a function of where they source the skin graft from) and I'm not sure the results are that much better than simply tattooing. At the time I felt getting them done helped me feel a little less freakish when I looked in the mirror, but I'm still not sure the full route was worth it and I might have been just as happy with a tattoo or nothing at all. Sorry to not be more help ! It's a tough one, but there's no need to jump into another surgery and be poked and prodded again unless you are absolutely ready. Do whatever is going to make you feel most comfortable.

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  2. Wow, that's a tough question. I never had breast reconstruction after my mastectomy, and so I have a real breast on my right side and I wear a breast prosthesis on my left side. Whatever you decide, it will be the right decision for you.

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  3. Hi Stacey, Well, we do have much in common it seems! I am going in for implants on Th. I'll be so glad to be rid of the tissue expanders. I can't decide if I should tell that in my blog now or wait til later like I usually do. Anyway, I am starting to think about the nipple part too now. I agree, even the word makes me uncomfortable. It sounds trivial somehow. Don't know what I'll do yet. One thing at a time I guess. Good luck with your decision. Great post! And it took a little guts on your part too! Good for you.

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  4. Stacey, I have not had a mastectomy, but if my breast cancer makes another appearance, these babies are outta here. Surprisingly, I have already had a talk with my breast surgeon about it, and I think I will be okay without the nipple reconstruction. Then again, it's easy for me to say because it hasn't happened and may not happen. Whatever you decide will be the right decision because it's YOUR decision.

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  5. Anna and Ginny Marie, thanks for sharing your stories. I definitely want to learn more tattoos without the nipple reconstruction. I've heard of a 3D tattoo that supposably looks pretty good.

    Nancy, good luck on Thursday. That will be a good day. Expanders are the absolute worst. Designed by a man, no doubt. Let us know how it goes.

    Karma, thanks for sharing your thoughts and your kind words.

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  6. Stacey,
    There is no right or wrong; no time limits on your decision. It's what works best for you. What if you stop thinking about it for a while, and see what comes to you?

    My mastectomies & nipple reconstructions were several years apart. The first newly reconstructed nipple stuck way out there and looked like a landing site on a hummingbird feeder. I feared it would never look normal, so I stopped babying it. Ultimately, it collapsed like a souffle, and the tattoo has faded to where I don't really notice it. The plastic surgeon used another technique to reconstruct my 2nd nipple, and of course, it doesn't match the other one. At that point, I decided not to get the 2nd one tattooed. I'm done! I've had enough! I'm just grateful to be here. And yes, whatever you decide will be the right decision for you.

    Best,
    Brenda

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  7. Hi Brenda, I absolutely think you're right. I definitely need to stop thinking about it for a while. I don't know why there's such a rush to finish when we don't really need to act quickly. Not at this point, anyway.

    Thank you for reading and sharing your experience. It means a lot.

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