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!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

October Update


Not much post-worthy happening around here but I wanted to touch-base with all of you and give you some photo updates.

It's October 10 and today is in the 60's...actually feels like Fall!!  Won't last but a few days, but we'll enjoy it today. :)

As far as surgical recovery goes, life is pretty okay.  I get a little frustrated sometimes with my decreased endurance and lack of upper body and abdominal strength.  I was working on a DIY project last week and could not have done it without my teenage son to do the heavy lifting.  I used to be able to do so much more in one day, but now I find myself tiring out and needing to take a break.  It's not all bad...I tend to push myself too hard to finish projects, but it is frustrating.   Everything takes time, I know, but having never had major surgery prior to this year, I never realized just how much its affects can linger.  I'm trying to learn to embrace the rest....easier said than done. 

Super excited to report that my final Phase 3 is scheduled!!  My micropigmentation procedure (aka tattoos) will be completed in my PS office by my nurse on Nov. 7th.  Yay!  This should be the last procedure on my breast reconstruction journey.  

As my new nipples/areolas have healed, I am even happier with them!  As promised, the nipples have gone down about 50% and are not as "noticeable" when I am not wearing a bra (not that I do that in public, but I could! ;) ).  To see them with color's like waiting for Christmas as a kid!  
New nipples built 2.5 months ago...all healed and scars fading.
Just waiting on tattoos for color!!
The breasts themselves are great! The fat grafting made all the difference in shaping for me and they are very symmetrical.  Most of the time, my foobs are soft and natural feeling. When I first wake up in the morning and sometimes after an active day, they will feel a little firm.  This goes away immediately with a quick massage.  Love that they are "perky" even without a bra....its been years since that was the case!! 

My incisions have all healed well and the scars are starting to fade.  I'm not very good about massaging them daily like I should, but I'm working on it.  Right now, I am alternating between Palmer's Cocoa Butter and Mederma Oil as recommended by my PS.  Just recently, I purchased the InviCible Scars cream (made by one of the MD's in my PS office).  I've heard great things about it, so we will see how it works and I'll let y'all know.  

The scars on my chest from the fat grafting in Phase 2 are not as red and noticeable....made me feel like I had the measles or chicken pox before!  :)
Fat grafting scars on chest at 2.5 months post-op
My original abdominal incision looks good...not fading as quickly as my breast incisions, but it is very smooth and flat.
DIEP Flap Abdominal Incision at 7.5 months post-op

My new flank incisions from Phase 2 surgery on 07/25 are a little different.  One is already quite flat and thin.  The other side is "indented" and "tighter"....can't figure out a better way to describe that.  Obviously, these scars are newer so it'll take them awhile to fade like the original.  
New right flank incision...smooth and flat already at 2.5 months post-op

I've gained weight since all of this began but I'm hoping that some of the indentation will smooth out with weight loss and scar massage.
New left flank incision...thin but a little "indented" at 2.5 months post-op

So, that's my update for today.  I've "met" quite a few ladies on this journey and have enjoyed chatting with several this month on Facebook. If you have questions or comments or just want to share your story, please comment below!  

Since October is officially Breast Cancer Awareness Month, please don't forget to do your self-exams and get your mammograms!!  I found this ad amusing:

Have a great week!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

6 months Later....Surgical Oncologist Follow-up

September 06 was officially six months since my Bilateral Skin-sparing (non-nipple sparing) Mastectomy with Immediate DIEP Flap Reconstruction.  My 6 month follow-up appointment at the Surgical Oncologist's office was almost 7 months actually. It doesn't seem real that it has been that long ago!!  

So, here's the lowdown....

My appointment was with the Nurse Practitioner, Rebecca.  She is super sweet and a fellow breast cancer survivor.  Having personal experience with the reconstructive process and the
journey, she is an awesome resource!  

Because my cancer did not require any chemo or hormone therapy, I am not followed by a Medical Oncologist just the Surgical Oncologist.  Therefore, they will conduct all of my labs and breast exams.  Rebecca stated that I will need 6 month visits (basically a manual breast exam) for 2 years and then annual visits for 3 years....a total of 5 years surveillance. Labs will be drawn annually.  After 5 years, my annual OB/GYN breast exam will suffice.  

Big notes:  
*No mammograms ever.
*If any physician ever finds something "suspicious", I am to contact my NP immediately for an ultrasound and she will follow-up on it.

Rebecca was very complimentary of my cosmetic results.  It was nice to hear the opinion of a fellow reconstructive patient.  She said that everything looks great and that in another 6-12 months I'll be amazed at my results and how much the scars will have faded!!  Her exact quote was: "You couldn't have asked for a better cosmetic outcome!"

After my appointment, I ran some errands and made a new wreath for our front door...something special for October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month!
October Breast Cancer Awareness Wreath

Then, I got to have dinner with a bunch of old friends. We caught-up and had a lot of laughs!! Everyone needs a night out with friends once in awhile.  :)

Love these gals!

Hope y'all have a blessed week!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Life and Bra Shopping at 6 months Post-Bilateral Mastectomy and Reconstruction

**WARNING: Post-Surgery photos/Partially Nude photos in this post!**

Just a few days ago on 09/06/17 was the 6 month-iversary since my Bilateral Mastectomy!  Hard to believe that it's been half a year already.  Most days it still feels like a dream....hard to explain to anyone who hasn't been there.  In addition to the 6 month milestone, last Tuesday was 6 weeks since my Phase 2 surgery with my nipple reconstruction.  I am super happy with the results from that surgery (and really looking forward to the finishing touch when they get colored-in).

School started for my son the second week of August (I know...very early!) so life is full of homework and soccer season is in full swing!  Work is busy, I've had several crafty projects going on, and it seems that my calendar always has something on it to do!  So, while for the most part life has moved on, I am reminded by the abdominal swelling by mid-day and the weird numb sensation that accompanies it that I have a new 'normal'.  

The abdomen thing is still quite strange and apparently going to go on for awhile, but I've been told that it gets better over time.  It's not quite 10am right now and I haven't been very active this morning so my abdomen and thighs feel fine.  This afternoon, both will have a strange numbness to them when touched.  It's nothing I would particularly notice except when touched or if I bump into something, etc.  It is not painful...just odd and sometimes a little annoying.  I notice it mostly at work when I lean over a crib rail or isolette or if I'm holding a baby against me.  In the past, I've likened it to when your foot falls asleep because there really isn't any other way to describe it that I can think of.  

Just like a lot of things on this breast cancer journey--time heals.  The swelling is definitely more pronounced now that I am no longer wearing the compression garment (My PS said I could stop wearing it at 6 weeks.). But overall, going without the garment has not been bad.  I'm not throwing any of them away for now because I still feel that my abdominal area is a bit weak and I might need to wear something on a particularly active day.  My PS said that the abdominal muscles take a longer time to heal than the external incisions.  Other than that numbness, I do not have anything I would call pain.  My abdomen still feels tight all the time.  When I get up from a reclining position or bend over is when I notice it the most.  I most definitely do not think I could do a bunch of sit-ups yet!

Speaking of sit-ups, most of you have heard of the LIVESTRONG Foundation, right?  I even got to share my story on their website.  LIVESTRONG has teamed-up with the YMCA and is offering a FREE program for any and all cancer survivors and/or fighters.  It sounds pretty interview with a coach, a personalized workout program, 2-sessions a week with a group for discussion, support, and exercise and it's all free for 12-weeks!  My PS said I was okay to start exercise (within reason) and we have a new YMCA just down the road from the house.  So, I spoke with the Program Coordinator and got on the list for one of the upcoming sessions!  Those who know me know that I do NOT exercise by choice, so this is a leap for me. But, I am looking forward to checking this program out and hoping that it will help me to strengthen my abdomen and core again.  If you are interested in joining a group, check out your local Y or click on the link I posted above.  I'll be sure to post when I get started to let you know how it is!

The other big adventure around here was my release to go BRA SHOPPING!  My PS said that at 6 weeks post-Phase 2, I should be whatever size I was going to more swelling. My incisions are all completely healed, no scabs, and everything is soft.  So, this past week, I went shopping!  A friend had given me a Victoria's Secret gift card so I started there. And,'s how it went for me:

Many of you have had a professional bra fitting and if you haven't, you should. The VS store is lovely albeit a little overwhelming, so it was nice to have someone measure me and make knowledgeable recommendations based on my new size and fit. 

Prior to having my son, I was small...I was a 30-32 big A-small B.  After breastfeeding and weight gain over the years, I have been anywhere from a 34-36 B-C.  Before surgery, a B was too small but many Cs were too big.  The goal with my PS was to get me to a full C.  VS suggested that I was a D!  

I specifically asked for only wire-free because that is all I've been allowed to wear up until now and I've been told that overall it is better for us (There's a lot of debate in the bra world on this topic, I guess.).  Unfortunately, VS does not have much to offer in this category (other than sports bra-style).  I entered the dressing room and the sales associate brought me their most popular wire-free bra. It was simple and plain....and quite boring.  

As you can see if the pics, it had some fit issues too.  Without the wire support, it gaps at the sides and especially right in the center!  Not flattering because you can see the bulge on the side under my shirt and the gap in the front makes it look like I have a "uni-boob".  
The associate brought me one of their regular wired bras so that I could see the difference.  She also had me try on a smaller measurement with a bigger cup....apparently, a 36DD is almost the same as a 38D??  There is a learning curve in the bra fitting world! 


As you can see, the wired bras fit better! No gap on the sides or center.  However, I felt that wire!!  I'm sure that part of it is because I haven't wore an wired bra in so long.  This particular bra was nothing to write home about (and certainly not for the price tag).  I agreed to try on their famous and cute sports bra even though it had to go over my hard could that be?
Going on was okay but coming off was NOT easy!
I was stuck in this one!
It actually crossed my mind that I might have to buy this one just because I was going to need to be CUT OUT OF IT!!  Their sports bra styles do not go up past a 36 and this one was tight!!    Panic sets in and my fear that I was going to have to ask a stranger for help getting out of a bra pushed me...I wiggled and was practically upside down trying to get out of it. Never again....never ever again.  It's a cute bra for a much smaller woman.

Feeling defeated, I tried on their brand new bra...Sexy Illusions. The sales associate had one on.  
She was well-endowed and assured me that it was awesome....smooth and light and the wire was well-padded.  It truly is a very nice bra!  I can still feel the wire (again, I think I'm just sensitive now) but nothing like the other bras.

No gap in the front and smooth sides!

Looks smooth under my clothes!

I went ahead and purchased one of these...I even got a free $14 lipstick just for trying on the new style and they had a special panty sale so I walked away with some new undies too!

Since VS was not as successful as I'd hoped, I walked over to SOMA....heard great things about their bras.  They did offer a couple more options (3 total) in a wire-free but again, none were very pretty.

The fit was similar at SOMA....I measured as a 38 D.  However, I did need a C in one style. The wire-free offered the same issue in the front...this time an even bigger gap!  I think I could have fit a Dr. Pepper can in there!!

They do have a really nice wire-free called the Vanishing Back that was significantly better!  

No large gaps but they only had black or green in stock that day so I opted to wait.  As I was walking out, I saw the Brighton store and couldn't resist treating myself to a little bling for my bracelet!

On my way home, feeling disappointed in my lack of bra success, I pulled into JCPenney. They came through for me after my Phase 1 so....

JCPenney for the win again!  The selection of wire-free bras was phenomenal!  

All colors and styles and some were even pretty!  I was pressed for time at this point so I did not even try all of the ones they offered.  I found this beauty though and bought it:

Look how small that gap is:

So, at the end of the day, I came home with one wire-free bra from JCPenney (Ambrielle) and one wired bra from Victoria's Secret.  I emailed my PS Nurse that evening to ask about my options. I told her that I was not having much success finding supportive bras without underwire and wondered if it was okay to wear underwire routinely now.  Thankfully, she responded that I am clear to wear underwire bras now!  Both of the ones I bought are very comfortable and after wearing the wired bra a couple of times, I am noticing it less. So, I feel more comfortable with trying on more wired options on the next shopping trip.

All of that being said......
I've needed to lose weight for some time now but weight loss has not been my focus this past 6 months.  Now that surgeries are complete and I'm healing well, there really isn't an excuse for the terrible eating habits I've developed! There's no compression garment or binder to hide it anymore either! I have gained almost 10 lbs since my diagnosis! And, there is nothing like a trip into the harsh reality of a dressing room to make one realize just how bad it has become!! 

Getting serious about getting this weight off starts this week!  New body, new breasts, new red hair color, new cancer-free me, right?  :)

For those asking and wondering how the new nipples are healing.....
I am thrilled and think they look great!  
6 weeks post-Phase 2 Reconstruction and
6 months post-Phase 1 Bilateral Mastectomy

That's it for my latest adventures on this breast cancer journey!  I'll keep you posted on what's new.  And, if you have any great bra recommendations, shoot them this way!

Enjoy your week!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Checkin' Those Nipples! Two Week Post-op Visit


This afternoon was my two week post-op visit with my Plastic Surgery Nurse, C.  It was a quick appointment and easy.  C started by just asking about how my recovery had been going and if there were any issues.  Then, the good part....she took off all of that surgical tape from my incisions and removed those annoying little sutures in my chest!!

Remember, I had five of these little holes where he did the fat grafting?  Each one had sutures that were sticking out.  They were a little sore, they scratched if you rubbed past them, and you could see them sticking out through my clothes.  So happy she removed those sutures!  I was instructed to start massaging them this week with Cocoa Butter w/Vitamin E or scar cream to soften and flatten them.
There are a total of 5 "holes" from the fat grafting on my breasts.

Close-up of one of the fat-grafting sites
She also removed all of the sticky surgical tape from my breast incisions.  Again, she was impressed with the healing progress and I can start putting cream on those incisions by the weekend.  
Right abdomen at two weeks post-op Phase 2

Left abdomen at two weeks post-op Phase 2

Abdomen at two weeks post Phase 2 Revision Surgery

The nipples still have the dissolving sutures, so I am to avoid putting anything on them for now.  Hoping those dissolve over the next couple of weeks.  There are a couple of spots on my breast "lollipop" incisions that are thick and raised but I know with time and massage they will go down.  The cool thing is that I see the potential!  They look like breasts with real nipples and once the color tattoos are's going to be something!
Right breast at two weeks post-nipple reconstruction

Left breast at two weeks post-nipple reconstruction
Until then, I must continue to wear the nursing pads (with holes cut out of the center) in my bra.
Each side of my bra has to have 3-4 nursing pads
with a hole cut out of the center in order to keep my
new nipples from being "smushed" down by my bra/clothing.
If you look at the above pics and the one below, you can see that the right breast doesn't really have any bruising, but the left is bruised all over.  It is a green-ish hue so that usually means its healing; however, C wants me to start massaging them both but focusing on the left breast.  She told me to keep an eye on it and let her know if it changes or gets firm....don't want it to turn into a hematoma!
My new breasts and nipples....
5 months post Bilateral Mastectomy w/Immediate DIEP Flap Reconstruction
and 2 weeks post-Nipple Reconstruction and Fat Grafting
Btw, they look huge in this pic but they really aren't that crazy looking in real life!  My nurse told me today that I am most assuredly a "full C" or even a "small D" now!!  That's crazy.  Before I had my son (and then got fat), I was a small B.  Prior to surgery, I was a big B....a C was loose.  I'm actually excited to go bra shopping when this heals!

C said that the liposuction areas will continue to be a little tender for awhile even though the bruising has faded.  The compression garment still needs to be worn 24/7 for another month.  C also commented on how nice the one I purchased was...and it is a lot more comfy than the one they gave me!  I highly recommend it if you are still looking. Since I have to wear it for another month, I stopped at Walmart and picked up another one on my way home for $19.98.

I can start sleeping on my sides again next week...woohoo!  I hate sleeping on my back.  And, being able to massage and put on the cream will make things softer and more comfy too.

Next up will be to get my tattoo session with my nurse scheduled for this Fall!  Insurance requires it to be three months from the last surgery so I'm hoping for end of October or early November!

I head back to work tomorrow and on that note....
My Tip for this Phase:
Those of you who have been following my Facebook updates know that I originally intended to return to work last week at 9 days post-op.  The truth was that I was NOT READY!  Physically, I was still tired by afternoon, still feeling queasy with too much exertion, and my brain was foggy.  As a NICU nurse, I felt unsafe returning to work in a fog.  Thankfully, I have an awesome workplace and understanding boss who had already sensed it and I was cleared to wait to return until tomorrow...which will be 15 days.  So, as a note to those of you making this decision now, go ahead and plan for two weeks!  Honestly, I was stressing myself out about it and was not sleeping.  As soon as I spoke with my boss and she said not to come in, I took a two hour nap!! And, I slept almost through the night that night for the first time since surgery!!  
We often put too much pressure on least I do.  So, I would recommend that you plan for more and if you feel okay at one week then go back early.  There is no sense in potentially extending your recovery because you pushed yourself too hard.

I've had the opportunity to chat with several women this month who reached out to me via FB and have enjoyed getting to know them all. If I can answer questions or you just need a sounding board, please feel free to message me any time!

Enjoy your week!

12/22/16  Routine Screening Mammogram
01/18/17  Repeat Imaging and US of left breast; LUMP found.
01/20/17  Core Needle Biopsy
01/24/17  Biopsy results positive...Stage 0 DCIS, left breast
01/25/17  Meeting with Breast Center Navigator and Genetic Testing
01/30/17  Consultation with Surgical Oncologist, Dr. K
02/08/17  Consultation with Plastic Surgeon
02/21/17  Pre-op Visit with Dr. O's nurse
02/27/17 Pre-op Labs and Testing
03/05/17 Lymph Node Injection
03/06/17 SURGERY DAY!
03/10/17 Home!
03/16/17 10 day Post-op Visit with Plastic Surgery nurse
03/20/17  2 week Post-op Appointment with Surgical Oncologist, Dr. K
04/07/17  1 month Post-Op w/Plastic Surgeon, Dr. O
04/16/17 Returning to work!
05/19/17  Appointment with Dr. O to schedule Phase 2 Surgery!
07/13/17 Pre-op Visit with Dr. O's nurse; Pre-op Labs/EKG
07/25/17 Phase 2 Surgery!!
08/08/17  2 week Post-op Visit with Plastic Surgery Nurse