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 was on the fence about nipple reconstruction after her double mastectomy is glad she proceeded.
A cancer diagnosis is a lifetime invitation to uncertainty: Will I live? How long will I live? Will the cancer come back? Is it worth another "procedure" to recreate nipples after my double mastectomy? Were you surprised by the last question?
This morning the surgery dressings came off three days after nipple reconstruction. The more accurate description would be nipple creation rather than reconstruction, I think. In the face of uncertainty and fear that kept me pretty sleepless for the last three nights as I imagined horrible things, I actually liked what I saw!
For me, the choice of whether or not to do this was not an easy decision. The nipple information at breastcancer.org was helpful and included additional articles about white to expect, risks and even other options. It was also helpful to peek some (but not too much) at the images on Google though in hindsight, I think the simple drawings from the Mayo Clinic were equally helpful and less graphically disturbing.
If you are on the fence about bothering with nipple reconstruction, I encourage you to ask your plastic surgeon for after pictures of his or her work and to strongly consider proceeding. It is not without risks, so my fingers are still crossed, but so far, I am feeling very grateful. The new nipples draw attention to themselves and away from the reconstruction scars of my breasts. That feels like a good thing and a nice bit of relief!
Even after covering the new nipples with fresh gauze after my shower, I am smiling at a faint outline through my shirt. I know that sounds weird. I have never been a girl who wanted to show her "headlights." Still, seeing these faint outlines helps me to feel more like a real girl again, and that is definitely nice.
In a world of uncertainty from cancer, this restoration of a tiny portion of life before cancer provides comfort. It also returned a small amount of control to me. I was able to be involved in nipple location. The ability to take part in the creation and decision-making process might seem like a small thing, but it mattered. It mattered to me, and in cancer survivorship, that is what sometimes counts. I know cancer can come back and take away control, but three days ago, I had control of something related to my body. So far, I am very pleased with the results.
I was awake for this procedure, which lasted less than an hour. After seeing a small portion of it in a reflection in the bright surgery lamp above me, I chose not to watch. Pain, compared to all the other cancer events so far, was pretty minimal. It was strange but somehow humanizing to get to be awake for this procedure. I could chat with the people in the operating room during the reconstructions. That was a new experience.
Today I am feeling very grateful and I am excited to go back to the surgeon's office in about six weeks to get tattooed. That is where I go back to get my nipples and surrounding areola colored. Talk about putting the cherries on top of the sundae! I am told I will again have input, this time about the shades of colors that will be applied, and I look forward to it.
Everyone lives with uncertainty in life. Cancer survivors are probably more conscience of it than some. Because of that, I believe it is important to share the positives as well as the negatives, and I am happy to share the results of my own experience in the hope that it will be helpful and encouraging for you.