No “discrete” way to say this: Rub-on Nipples

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!

Rub-on nipples, six to a pack. Last one to two weeks. Come off with rubbing alcohol.

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.

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About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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6 Responses to No “discrete” way to say this: Rub-on Nipples

  1. cat says:

    Ha ha! I have the nipples but never got the areola tattoos. Still thinking about it almost five years later.

    Just FYI, those expanders are put under the pectoral muscles to stretch the muscles out, and that is why they hurt so eff’ing much (this pain I know!). They go under the muscles in order to help hold the implants in place better. I asked my plastic surgeon if he could just put them over the muscle–that’s how much it hurt! But the thin skin that’s left after a mastectomy won’t hold the implants very well. The skin stretches just as if you were pregnant–no pain involved nor need to grow new skin.

  2. laurie says:

    Glad to see that someone explained the function of the expanders…indeed, they are to stretch the pecs out (like a baby stretches the abdominal muscles and the skin accomodates it). it hurts like crazy to have something under the pectoral wall, and causes a lot of uncomfortable muscle spasms. that’s where the pain comes from, rather than being a skin-stretching pain.
    I’m looking forward to checking out the tattoos!

  3. dropjohn says:

    There are stick on silicone nipples as well – those are attached to the breast with temporary adhesive: https://www.nippleprosthetics.com/content/nipple-prosthetics

    these can be cast from the existing nipple (if appropriate) — though I don’t see that option on the site I linked to, I’ve heard of it.

  4. Nice blog. Just visited http://tepelbedekkers.nl. Such a bizar product but it seems to work. It might be something to blog about for you? Keep it up and keep on writing. Your blog looks very 2014!

  5. Marcia says:

    I just bought these last week. Love the run on nipple tattoo. Wish I had known about them sooner. Just thought I would share 🙂
    http://goo.gl/5mQjnQ

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