Monday, November 13, 2017

A Little Color Goes a Long Way: Nipple and Areola Tattoos


So, it's done...I'm done! Phase 3...micropigmentation (aka tattooing) is complete and that basically ends my breast reconstruction journey! So amazing and surreal to think that I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January and here we are in November and reconstruction is complete.  So blessed to have had it all done within a calendar year too (no new insurance deductibles to meet!).

The folks at PRMA (my PS office) are fantastic about providing opportunities for patients to share their stories and for providing lots of videos and educational information on their websiteFacebook pageBlogYouTube channel and Instagram.  And, many women I've met or chatted with along the way have expressed concern over this last procedure...Will it look real? Will it hurt? Will it fade?  Is it worth it? Does it really make a difference?  To that end, I volunteered to have my micopigmentation procedure filmed at my PS office (see link below).

I'll share with you how it all went....

The day of my appointment (a week ago tomorrow!), I arrived early to film an interview portion of a video to talk about my breast cancer/reconstructive journey.  At my scheduled appointment time, my fantastic nurse Crystal called me back to the procedure room. She reviewed the consent paperwork with me and then had me change into a gown (just on top).  I sat in a chair while she carefully measured each of my new areolas for symmetry.  This is one of those times one is especially thankful for a perfectionist like Dr. O as your Plastic Surgeon!  My new areolas are practically the exact same size!!  This meant that Crystal could just basically "color between the lines" of my new nipples/areolas.

Next, we looked at you would when choosing a new foundation at the cosmetics counter. She applied the numbing cream (Lidocaine cream) to my left breast and then we tested colors on the right with cotton swabs.  Crystal said that just like all tattoos, I should expect these to fade so it was recommended to go with a bit darker shade that we'd normally choose.  We both agreed on the second color she tested so she applied the numbing cream to that breast and we got started on the left side!

Now, I should preface this by saying that I've never had a tattoo of any kind...anywhere!  Additionally, I am blessed to have sensation in both breasts following my surgery (where Dr. O was able to reconnect my sensory nerves).  So, I was a little nervous about how painful this would be. Several friends with tattoos warned me that this would hurt...quite a bit...and that the EMLA cream would not mean much. Well....I am happy to report that this was NOT the case.  Crystal was on top of the pain control and I hardly felt a thing throughout the whole procedure.

The tattoo needle moves very fast so I felt more of the vibration of the needle than anything else. Practically every time, Crystal wiped the site, she also sprayed a numbing spray on the area. After awhile, it felt like your cheeks and chin do with dental work...a little tingly numbness.  The areas directly over a scar were a bit more sensitive but even then, it was never painful.

After Crystal completed the left side, she covered the whole thing with a very thick coat of petroleum jelly and a clear bandage. She then got started on the right breast. Both breasts were completed in about 1.5 hours.  

Brittany was filming the procedure and the three of us laughed, told stories, joked around, and intermittently filmed Q&As the whole time!  I'm hoping that as others watch the videos, they will feel more at ease with their own planned procedures.

This is the link to the first clip (posted on Instagram) filmed as we are just getting started on the first tattoo:   

After, Crystal finished both breasts she checked them again for oozing and reinforced the dressings. There was a surprising amount of blood under those bandages when I removed them later so be ready with your supplies and clean dressings.  I was instructed to change the dressings every 3-4 hours a day (at least 5 times a day) for 1 week.  Emphasis was placed on keeping the newly tattooed areas moist with petroleum jelly at all times and NOT rubbing them. The color will come off with any scabs that form and are picked picking, just let them heal and fall naturally.  I also have to shower with my back to the shower head for this first week (just like after both previous surgeries).

I was told both by Crystal and my friends at work that itching is very common. Again, very important not to scratch but to just apply more jelly. No soap, sun exposure, or excessive sweaty for the first week.  Additionally, no swimming, hot tubs, or saunas for one month.  Following instructions seems to be working, so far my color is intact and I haven't felt any itching!

Here's another clip from that day:
And, the biggest questions...Do I like them and what do they look like, right?
I love them!  It is amazing what a little color can do.  Honestly, I could have lived with my new breasts like they were but they still felt unfinished. Now, they are done! It still surprises me a little when I look in the's been awhile since there has been color there and I'm taken back with how much like the real deal they look.  
From this....

To this...

Throughout this whole year, I've tried to stay positive and see the upside to all of this.  And, I have been extremely BLESSED. But, that being said, there is still the side of me that wants to look "normal" and feminine and maybe even sexy to someone someday.  When this all began, I was afraid that that idea was unrealistic. Now, it's like a little spark of hope that someone could see me and not pick me out of a line-up as the one with the "fake boobs" or just see the scars right away.  Who knew how much a little color would mean?  Many survivors face these thoughts. I know I'm not alone in this.  If you are contemplating this next step, I encourage you to do it!  I hope that you will be as pleased and amazed as I am.
Newly tattooed nipples and areolas on my
natural tissue reconstructed (DIEP Flap) breasts!

Have a terrific week!