Two little circles, that’s what they are. Two little circles.
How can it be that two little circles can make me feel so complete.
When I started this mastectomy journey, I had so many different emotions and fears about having my breasts removed. I remember the last time my husband and I made love before the surgery; I realized that this would be the last time I would have erotic sensations from having him touch my nipples. I mourned that loss as it was definitely part of our foreplay and I was angry that I had to give it up.
But once my breasts and nipples were gone, there was something else that I was mourning. Many women say that one of the hardest parts of having a mastectomy is the first time you see yourself in the mirror and your breasts are gone. I have to admit that this was very difficult for me and I almost threw up when I saw a full frontal view of myself. Over the months and during the saline fills, I watched my breasts slowly reappear and then when we swapped the expanders for the implants, I thought I would feel complete.
But something was missing. Two little circles, two little circles…my nipples. Every day, when I got out of the shower, my eyes focused on the incision lines from the major surgeries and the dings and dents from the biopsies and lumpectomies that occurred prior to the mastectomy. I focused on the imperfections that reminded me of all I had gone through. Of course, I felt blessed and thankful that I was alive and pray every day, after having survived two cancer journeys, that these traumatic experiences are behind me and I can move on. Nonetheless, I did not see breasts when I looked in the mirror, but instead I saw the scars from my journey.
My husband and I had many discussions on whether I should have nipple reconstruction, whereas a physician would take skin from other parts of my body, called donor sites, to reconstruct my nipples or if I would get 3-D tattoos. I decided to go with the tattoos for many reason with the most prevalent one being that I did not want to have any more surgeries. After 4 biopsies, 3 lumpectomies, countless mammograms, ultrasounds and MRI’s, a double mastectomy and then reconstructive surgery, I did not want to have to recover from another procedure. 3-D nipple tattooing takes 1 hour from start to finish.
On May 3rd, 2017, we arrived at Little Vinnie’s Tattoo Parlor just prior to our 1pm appointment. This is located in Finksburg, MD, which is a 3 ½ hour drive for us. I told my husband he had to be my wing-man, making sure that each nipple went on each breast in the same spot. The last thing I needed was to have my nipples looking like Igor’s eyes from Young Frankenstein (played by Marty Feldman in the movie) with one looking one way and the other looking another.
After filling out some routine paperwork, we were told that Vinnie was ready for us and we were brought into a small room and waited for him to arrive. Besides his signature hat that he seems to always wear, the one thing that stood out about him were his piercing blue eyes. Over the years, Vinnie has worked with thousands of women to create and complete nipples for breasts that were interrupted by cancer and I could not help but think that those blue eyes have guided him in each of his works of art.
We quickly got to work. He asked me to stand in front of him and he began to draw circles in the places he thought my nipples might look best. Being the super prepared, obsessive person that I am, I whipped out photos of my original nipples for comparison sake to show him what I was aiming for. After a couple of tweaks, we all agreed as to where they would look best and Vinnie started the procedure.
Many people asked me if it hurt during the tattooing and, to my surprise, it was mildly uncomfortable but completely foreshadowed by the fun, lighthearted conversation that my husband, Vinnie and I had during our hour visit. Vinnie shared that he had four children and we swapped stories about how much college cost and how hard we collectively worked as parents to get our kids through it without them incurring enormous debt when they graduated. We joked and talked about many things, which made the hour pass quickly. When all was done with the first nipple, he swiveled my chair around so I could take a look in a full length mirror and, whoa, I could not believe what I saw. I saw my breasts take on a new incredible look, one which I had not seen since before this journey began. I did not see the scars, the dings, the dents, the imperfections. Instead, I saw a real looking breast and it made me feel complete and happy. With our thumbs up, Vinnie went on to create a mirror image on my other breast.
I do not think I am a superficial person and I completely recognize that these new nipples were not going to be publicly displayed. I am a 53 years old married woman and mother; I am not going to show them to the world, be in a wet tee-shirt contest and more or less, the only people that will likely see them will be me, my husband and my physician. Furthermore, I realize that they do not serve a useful function in my life. I will not be nursing and nurturing a baby. Essentially, they were there for me and only for me.
Once he was finished, we thanked Vinnie for his work and off he went to help the next woman that had come to him to find closure and completion. I remember during the car ride home taking a peek at my nipples every 15 minutes or so and laughing, not in a HA HA way, but more in a Woo Hoo, this is great kind of way.
In a screwed up situation when you have to do something so extreme such as removing your breast, albeit for the most important reason to potentially save your life, there is something nice to be said about having someone that can bring some confidence and happiness to you with his incredible talent and eyes of perfection. Tomorrow I will wake up and no longer feel damaged; I will feel complete.