Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools—We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
A breast cancer survivor who had a double mastectomy with reconstruction talks about her nipple coloring process.
Today I got my reconstructed nipples colored. It was the last procedure in my double mastectomy reconstruction process. Don’t laugh at my private happy dance or my last procedure — at least where I can hear you. I doubt at age 55, I honestly can call it my last procedure since life has a habit of throwing health issues out there. Still, I am free for the summer! I feel like a kid let out of school for summer vacation! It has been a long year of procedures.
My newly completed breasts will get a chance to settle in and I will get a chance to get accustomed to them and mostly focus on other things in my life. There were definitely things no one tells you about this lengthy breast reconstruction process. The good news is that today, though the fear of recurrence is still there, it is more like background noise instead of front and center stage.
Yesterday when the Lidocaine (a local anesthetic) wore off, my newly-colored nipples felt a little sore. In my world, that is actually a good thing because it meant those areas of my breasts still have some feeling left. Today, life is good, very good.
My husband, who I invited to my appointment to help me select nipple color and size (who knew?), commented that at age 55 I now have my first tattoo. Of course I felt obligated to correct him by pointing out these were my first two tattoos, and technically, that wasn’t even quite true because I have two tattoo marker dots on my ribs for radiation treatments I had nine years ago.
Overall, I am happy with my results. After following a couple Facebook breast reconstruction support group sites including the double mastectomy reconstruction and support group and Sisters in Scars, I am relieved that many things that could have gone wrong did not go wrong for me.
I attribute the success of my “new girls” to the skill of my surgeon and his staff and also some good luck. My surgeon and his staff do a lot of breast constructions, and I mean a lot. The take-away advice is: Choose a surgeon who has lots of experience for whatever type of procedure you need to have done.
Further, I have decided that a plastic surgeon specializing in breast cancer double mastectomy with reconstruction might be a bit of a thankless job. Many things can go wrong, and as survivors, we miss our original breasts and so we don’t appreciate or understand all the techniques and skills that go into making the new “breasts” look as good as possible. We don’t say thank you for the things that went well or the things that did not go wrong—infections, scar tissue that could look worse, or irregular areas that could be shocking. There are many reconstruction considerations that are unique because we are not all the same size, shape or structural design and it is not possible to predict how each of our bodies will react to the procedures.
Today I plan to continue to provide TMI (too much information) in the hope of helping others. I am grateful and happy to be here. Life is good.