If you’re not the sharpest tool in your shed, then I’ll be blunt. I got nipples! And this posting will be solely dedicated to the little headlights women have forever either flaunted or hidden from the rest of the world.
See, my mastectomy wasn’t as traumatic as I originally thought it would be. Since I had larger breasts and always yearned for a reduction, the idea of getting smaller breasts was actually somewhat becoming to me. After the initial surgery, I had no qualms in showing friends my breasts, to give a better understanding of what a mastectomy actually looks like. Not so much that I’m a mardi gras beads kinda gal, but since they were synthetic they no longer felt a part of me. Especially since they were the temporary tissue extenders and felt more like rocks, and that at any time if they would be taken way I wouldn’t feel a lick of difference. However once I had the permanent implants in place, I started remembering what having real breasts felt like and would start to feel a bit nostalgic. I no longer had to wear bras, the first time since the fifth grade! I could wear nearly any outfit I wanted, and feel totally comfortable and at ease.
So when the time came to get my nipples, I started questioning. Why? Why in the world do I need nipples? It’s not as if they would work, as in any breastfeeding function. That is, if I can even have kids. Without nipples, I need not worry about something falling out like a Tara Reid, or showing my ‘tune in Tokyos’ through a blouse. I could, for the first time in life, not give a care in the world as to how my breasts looked in any outfit. But then there’s my husband. For the past 14 months he’s soldiered through all things related to breast cancer – doctor appointments, scans, tests, surgery, follow ups, chemotherapy, radiation, more scans, more tests, and another surgery. The least I can do for the man that stood by me throughout it all was give him a couple of nipples, right? Rather than he look at my artificial tatas with their ‘T’ shaped scars, it may be a bit more appealing if they actually looked a little more, well …..real. So when I return to my doctor, I’m doing it for Graham. Or so I thought.
My reconstruction surgeon, a genius thus far, talked me through the entire in- office procedure two weeks beforehand. That’s right, they manufacture the nipples right there in the office. No hospital necessary! Dr. Samson always marveled at my skin’s ability to heal well when it came to scars. Even before my mastectomy, when looking at my c-section scar, or what’s left of it, he said, ‘oh yeah, you’ll be just fine.’ Ever since then, I knew I was in good hands. Albeit, it’s taken four years for my c-section scar to get to where it is today, barely noticeable. But when you have kids, and look at how fast four years have gone by, it seems like a piece of cake.
I forget that I made the appointment during one of Graham’s classes and during Becca’s matinee so I text the next two friends who would appreciate new nipples – Amber, a newly certified dula, and Elizabeth, a documentary filmmaker. Both leap at the opportunity. Waiting in the doctor’s reception area is a bit like the kid in a candy store feeling – anxious, excited, a bit nervous. Neither can go in with me during the procedure for fear that they would pass out. Not their fear of course but Dr. Samson and his assistant’s, Sam. But, immediately following, my support team can join me. I go in, undress and wait for Sam. She takes photos of me each and every time to use in their catalog to show other patients the progress of procedures. When done, I jump onto the examining table and wait for Dr. Samson. He comes in, and draws on the areas that will soon become my nipples. With the two of them examining my breasts, conversing back and forth about the exact location, they agree that the left nipple should be only slightly higher than the right in order to give the perception that they’re even. That’s right, after all of this my breasts still aren’t exactly perfect. Radiation on the right side makes the skin tighter which makes the breast sit higher, not that the left is sagging by any means. But with the nipples, oh boy, not even I will be able to tell after looking long and hard in the mirror.
Samson leaves, while I hop back onto the table in order for Sam to inject the local anesthesia. This is always the most painful part. Little deep needle injections, puncturing in a circular formation surrounding the areas on both breasts in which they’ll cut the skin. The first few stabs are cringing, but as she continues the breast becomes numb and she repeats on the other. Minutes later, the doc re-enters and they begin. They slice the top horizontal line of my T-shaped scar, and a small portion of the vertical, turn the skin up into a triangle and suture a nipple together. I only feel a tug here and a pull there, no pain or pinch to speak of. It’s the first time I’m really able to chat with the two of them, which is a bit odd at the time but it is relaxing considering all I need to do to watch them slice and suture me is lift my head and look down. I do twice just to say that I did. Yep, those are my breasts and those are scalpels ….and I slowly lay my head back down. As they predicted, an hour later I’m done. The doctor leaves as Sam finishes up, and for the first real time I get a good look at my nipples. They are HUGE! Sam quickly says, ‘They will get smaller and when it’s time for the tattoo it’s easier for us to make the adjustment for smaller than it is to make them larger.’ Wow, this is quite a change. My two spectators enter. One quickly grabs the camera, and the other can say nothing but, ‘Oh my god, they look so good!’ We all chat and joke while Sam cleans me up. A bit reluctantly she agrees to allow Elizabeth to return with camera in tow for the nipple and areola tattooing in 6-8 weeks.
The three of us leave. I have some Christmas shopping to finish up, and my two amigas are laughing at the fact that I’m minutes out of the doctor office and already on the run. But I’m fine, really. My breasts feel a bit numb, but other than that I’m completely fine. I dodge through the madness of Hell’s Kitchen and then Times Square, all the whole protecting my new additions, making sure no one bumps into me or accidentally elbows me. I get on the subway to pick up the twins, and suddenly feel the urge to whisper my secret to everyone on the train. ‘Guess what? I got new nipples today.’ Then life continues as normal.
Once I get the girls to bed later that night, I get another good look. Wow, they do look good Amber Ford. I mean, they have stitches which will take several weeks to dissolve, and there are the suture strips on the horizontal T now separated by a nipple! And they are a bit big for the moment, but yes, they do in fact look good! And what I didn’t expect to happens, does in fact happen. I start to feel as if I got them for myself, sorry Graham. Maybe it’s the sense of feeling like a woman, or the idea of finally having breasts that look even, or the realization that I’m steps away from looking and feeling normal once again.
For days afterwards, I show anyone I can – associates at work, moms at the neighborhood holiday party, friends at a cabaret, the host of a private gathering, more friends, more associates, more moms. I have to start to restrain myself for fear of starting rumors that I’m the mom that lets people look down her blouse. Several weeks have gone by, and if anything, I’ve felt that I’ve appeared colder than usual. Because I hate stitches, I started to pull and cut what was there which caused some bleeding. So I bandaged them up for over a week, and now? Well, I can go into the new year proudly cancerless and with new nipples. And who knows, maybe I’ll get them and areolas tattooed by Valentine’s Day. A girl, and a guy, can only hope!