I have a neighbor whom I’ve known for decades. I grew up with her daughters. Until I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had no idea that she had had a mastectomy, a radical one, in the 1970s. She was unbelievably solicitous when I was going through treatment, always coming over to ask how I was doing. Since I’ve realized that we’re both in the breast cancer sisterhood, I occasionally notice the strap of her prosthetic bra when her shirt or sweater slips slightly. It’s more padded than a normal strap. For decades, I didn’t notice that. It reminds me of magic tricks: If you’re not expecting something, you tend not to see it.
Luckily, things have changed a lot for breast cancer patients since the 1970s. Many women no longer want to fuss with prostheses for decades after mastectomy. Approximately half of mastectomy patients now opt to do some sort of breast reconstruction.
Reconstruction isn’t perfect, of course. It involves several surgeries, and painful “chest expanders,” to expand the pectoral muscles to accommodate the implants. I haven’t had to do this, knock wood, but people tell me it really hurts. I think of it as braces for boobs. Instead of going to the orthodontist every couple weeks to tighten your wires; you go to the plastic surgeon every couple of weeks so he can inject more saline into the expanders.
While you’re dealing with expanders, you look mostly normal in clothes, but you don’t have nipples. There are lots of options these days for recreating nipples: tattoos, 3-D reconstruction. But none of these things can be done until you’re finished with everything else. And that may mean months or years. Not only this, but not all women feel comfortable with the idea of permanent tattoos. Even though sensation is much diminished in reconstructed breasts, getting a tattoo there still sounds ouchy.
So, a fellow member of Bay Area Young Survivors, just alerted me to another option: Rub-On nipples!
You can check them out here.
I have no idea how well they work, but it seems something worth checking out if you’re doing reconstruction.