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Nipple Envy

I admit it; I ‘suffer’ from nipple envy. I have been for quite some time, but yet it’s taken me a long while to publish this post. I’m not entirely sure why. Okay, yes I am. Nipple talk is awkward. Nipples are such tiny features of our anatomy, but they are pretty darn important features, especially if you’re a woman. For some reason discussing nipples is awkward for most of us. Maybe the more we say the word out loud, the less awkward it will become. So let’s talk nipples…

It took me three years to publish a post in which I came out and said I miss my breasts. It still strikes me as ironic that even though I write a blog about breast cancer and loss, it took me so long to state such a simple truth in a blog post. Turns out, it’s been one of my most widely read posts. And now I guess I’m taking it to another level and stating that yes, I miss my nipples too. A lot. I’m hitting the publish button on this post, too, because I know I’m not alone here either.

When I watched TV shows or movies before cancer that involved nudity, or rather female nudity (because let’s be honest, that’s what we see the most of on screen), I saw breasts quite differently. I was more likely to notice their size and shape. I never zeroed in a whole lot on nipples.

Now when I watch TV shows or movies that involve bare-breasted women, I immediately zero in on the women’s nipples. I don’t care about any of the rest any more. Size and shape are meaningless to me. Now it’s all about the nipples. It’s like my eyes are drawn to them and I sit there feeling a little bit envious. Okay a lot envious.

I miss mine.

The only times I ever really thought about my own nipples were the times I was breastfeeding and they were so darn sore. Or when I wore a particular piece of clothing and things showed when I really didn’t want them to. Okay, and during intimate moments with dear hubby.

Other than those times, I didn’t give nipples a whole lot of thought. I took them for granted.

Then along came cancer, a brca2+ revelation and a bilateral mastectomy.

When discussing my mastectomy, having a nipple sparing procedure was out of the question for me. It wasn’t an option, or at least not a smart one for me to consider. Hence, my nipples were not spared.

My nipples had to go.

At the time, I didn’t realize the significance of this loss. And people didn’t and don’t really talk about it much. I wonder why this is.

Do they think we won’t notice when they’re gone?

Do they think our partners won’t either?

This whole nipple loss thing is another huge reason breast reconstruction is no boob job, not even close.

And just for the record, my breast reconstruction did include nipple reconstruction too. I plan to write a follow-up post sometime on the state of my reconstruction project. But for now, I’ll just state the obvious; breast reconstruction only reconstructs breasts. Nipple reconstruction only reconstructs nipples and in my case, not very successfully. Neither can reconstruct sensation – another pretty darn important piece of information that often is not discussed during consultations.

When a woman gives up her breasts and her nipples, it’s sometimes a bigger deal than even she realizes at the time.

I always knew I’d miss my breasts when they were amputated, but missing my nipples so much caught me a little bit by surprise. Sometimes it still does.

I am grateful I had the option to choose reconstruction, but I do miss my original parts. A lot.

As usual, feelings of gratitude and feelings of loss can co-exist.

And it’s okay, even healthier, to talk about both.

Do you ‘suffer’ from nipple envy?

Have you had nipple reconstruction?

Did you have a nipple sparing mastectomy or do you know someone who did?

 

 

31 thoughts on “Nipple Envy

  1. I still have one breast, so perhaps it’s a different perspective. But I really do get the envy aspect. For the longest time I had (have?) boob envy. All those sets of boobs in the pretty bras. For a while, it was hard to notice much else but what others had and I didn’t. Nowadays, I’m not too sure. The envy has gone quiet, thought a walk-by of Victoria Secret is enough to stir the emotions again. ~Catherine

    1. Catherine, Yeah, I know what you mean about that stroll past Victoria Secret. Talk about a reminder… We do adjust and adapt, but we don’t forget. Thanks for reading and sharing. xx

  2. I am due to have a nipple sparing mastectomy in December. My first surgery is to remove the cancer (bilateral lumpectomies, sentinel node dissection) then to devascularize the nipple and areola. This in theory will help with the nipple sparing bilateral mastectomy with immediate DIEP reconstruction which follows in December (I’ve written about the surgeries here – http://bcbecky.com/2014/10/groundhog-day/.
    I can totally relate to your sense of loss especially with the feeling of the nipples. Even with nipple sparing surgery, I’ll have something that looks like my nipples, but I won’t have the same sensations. I shall truly miss it …

    1. Rebecca, Oh my gosh, you have a lot going on in December. I wish you well with all of it. I’ll be interested in following your story in regard to how the nipple sparing procedure goes, as well as all the rest of it of course. Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your link. I’ll be visiting soon. Good luck with your surgeries. Thanks for commenting.

  3. I had never thought of it as “nipple envy”..but that is exactly what I have! It was like you were writing my life right now! Thank you for bringing the unspoken “nippleless” subject to light – I don’t feel quite so alone anymore!

  4. Thank you for sharing Nancy!! This is so true. Such a teeny tiny part of the body, but a necessary part of a woman’s physical appearance. I don’t have envy, per say, but I sure do miss that feeling of completeness.

    1. Melissa, You got it exactly right, that feeling of completeness is gone. I have adapted and adjusted, but I have not forgotten and I still miss my original parts, even these two tiny, but very significant parts. No one prepared me for this ‘little loss’ that in reality is a pretty big deal. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  5. Thank you for bringing this subject to light. It is another part of the “just get new ones” nonsense that is so insultingly said to BC patients. I am “lucky” in that I had a large tumor that chemo reduced enough so that I could get a lumpectomy–but as my cancer was located in the nipple–that was precisely the flesh that had to go. No one talks about how nipples can be part of the recon, but there are limits (no sensation, etc).
    The nipple issue is another thing I find odd in all the explosive discussion around women baring their scars on Facebook or whatever. We are barraged with pictures of women all the time, with nearly all their breasts showing, but as long as the nipple is covered–it is OK (remember Janet Jackson anyone?). Yet some women show their surgery results, sans nipple, and everyone freaks out. I mean, why? There is no nipple! Very upsetting.

    1. CC, Yes, I certainly remember the Janet Jackson deal… crazy how that got so many riled so up. I agree with you about the ‘nonsense’ that is so insulting – that we can just go get some ‘new ones’. Even my plastic surgeon down-played the nipple part of my reconstruction somewhat and didn’t really seem to understand why I wasn’t totally pleased with how things turned out. Thank you for reading and for your wise (as always) commentary.

  6. What a great piece! I will a admit that I cried every time after being intimate with my spouse the weeks before my surgery because I was grieving the fact that I’d never feel that sensation ever again. Even though I did a nipple sparing in the beginning if I had it to do over they would have gone the first time around. They had issues and weren’t really the same after that even though nearly 3 year after they did respond to cold I still had no feeling. I feel like a huge piece of my arousal went out the door with them and it takes so much more to even think about intimacy now. This is the one part of my journey that has really bothered me the most. I just had the 3D tattoos done by Vinnie Myers and my husband thinks they look great ( I think they look pretty awesome too). At the end of the day he wants me to be here to enjoy our lives together and I want the same. I am blessed with someone who makes me feel whole en though parts of me aren’t there anymore. Thank you Nancy for opening the door to this “sensitive” topic.

    1. Helen, Oh gosh, that’s so sad that you cried after intimate moments early on, but it also makes perfect sense. Why wouldn’t we grieve for these womanly parts that we must give up? I’m glad you are satisfied now with your 3D tattoos. I’ve heard others speak highly of their 3D results too. The thing is, it’s not all about aesthetics though, as you know of course. It’s wonderful that you and I have partners who can see beyond our ‘parts’, but sometimes we still need to speak about these things and remember that others aren’t quite as fortunate in that area. As always, knowing we aren’t alone helps. Thank you for adding to this discussion, Helen.

      1. It is nice knowing we aren’t alone. I may not always comment on your blogs, but I do read them and follow as much as I can. You truly are an inspiration to the mets community and us BRCA peeps too. Loves and hugs!

  7. I am grateful for your posts and everyone’s comments. It has been two years since my double mastectomies, diep flap reconstructions, nipple reconstructions and nipple tattoos. I had dcis stage 0 high grade comedo necrosis breast cancer where I had one biopsy, three lumpectomies and they could not get clean margins before radiation option so I chose double mastectomies. I had three surgical opinions before making my own personal bc decision. I think my medical team made the best decisions for and with me regarding all of these options. Even the one that they call prophylactic. I could not however imagine how I would feel without each step.

    I feel as whole as can be possible after breast cancer. I miss my twins, the breasts, the areolas, the nipples but I have excellent memories that help me remember. I call it muscle memory like in sports. I visualize and envision my anatomy working the way it used to. When I go into a cold water pool I remember my nipples responses. When I see little babies nursing I remember the intimate connection with each of my five children that I nursed for 16 years back to back. When I am with my husband I remember the tenderness and the responses my entire body had in the past and I help my body to remember all of the possible responses. I read a book crazy sexy breast cancer survivor and it helped me to feel empowered.

    Unfortunately, pretty quickly my nipples began re-absorbing into my body so I might ask to have them reconstructed again. I wear padded bras if I do not want anyone to see them protruding or as in jest I say, now I am happy to see everyone. I refuse to let any cell in my body take away my joy and I have cried and I do grieve their absence. My twins have served me well I actually feel similarly as I do about my one miscarriage. That I believe there will be a time when I will feel whole and complete again in my body and I choose to experience “heaven” on earth now.

    I am so thankful for this discussion. I am hoping that others will start to experience what i call breast and nipple muscle memory because it feels so real to me that I feel wholeness and completeness. I still honor my losses. But I must have an amazing imagination and memory. Because for today my memories bring a smile to my face and contentment in my heart. I wish only the same for each one of you. We will overcome these obstacles if we continue to look for healing. Where there is a will there is a way.

    1. Diane, You have put into practice a very interesting way to cope. I have never really thought about looking at in quite that way – as a muscle memory type exercise. I do have similar memories, but I haven’t really experienced success in drawing upon them in quite the same way that you have. Like you, I am grateful for discussions like this one, because these things do matter to us and it helps to know we aren’t alone in these ‘little losses’ either. Thank you for adding to this discussion and for sharing about what helps you cope.

      1. I am still pondering your choice of words that the removal of one or two breasts was like being an amputee. After 2 years of survivorship I never felt that way although I know that I am. I remember being a young girl outside on the playground when I was in second grade and the boys could take their shirt off and play kickball but because I was a girl I was not allowed to. Luckily my grandma spoke to the teacher and principal and authorized them to be allowed to take off my shirt. Go Grandma. It’s amazing the things one remembers after a double mastectomy. I was comfortable being flat chested.

        As I grew up I developed a little slower than other girls and even had cramping as soon as becoming a woman came to me. What was the benefit of these special “girl” like qualities. Eventually I caught up to my peers and my hormones balanced out. I never rejoiced though about being a girl. Well maybe when I started getting positive attention from the boys in high school and college. But I did rejoice when I was married and got the privilege of becoming a mom. The “boobs” had a purpose that were intimate and useful and life giving. Actually they were also pretty useful in getting pregnant. I remember them being fun and useful to my happiness too. During my 20 years of marriage and parenting I actually grew very fond of my “twins” as I call them. And when I think of them now with the diep flap procedure they still look like my breasts although I can not feel them.

        They are like my gel manicure on top of my real nails. They look like perfect nails but they are enhanced to be stronger because of some help. I love my nails. Maybe I am becoming more vain. But I feel feminine but still smart, intelligent and successful. Do I feel disabled or damaged or less of a woman because my first breasts are no longer there? Nope. If I lost my leg in an accident I think I would probably use a prosthetic. Would I wish for my original leg? Probably but if it had bone cancer in it that could threaten the rest of my life…. I think I would remove it and get an artificial one. Would I still want to hike the Appalachian trail with it? probably… would it be harder? probably…. would I do it probably?

        I am so sad that we are struggling with the side effects of breast cancer and the loss of our breasts. I wish everyone could have a diep flap like me. But not everyone had gained weight that could be useful to make reconstructive breasts. Did I just say I am glad I was overweight? Oh my God I did. Did I get a boob job? Yes Did I get a tummy tuck? Yes Did I do it for cosmetic reasons ABSOLUTELY NOT! Would I prefer to have my old twins back ABSOLUTELY? Would I like to have my old stomach back? sometimes yes sometimes no. I am so excited to be having this conversation with you on this blog. I feel free. Then I get nervous….. am I going to offend someone. Is it worded properly? probably not. Does it matter to you? probably not. I am sharing my feelings and I am so thankful that none of them are bottled up.

        Thank you sooooo much for listening. I think this is still part of healing…. I may be physically healed but maybe there is more emotional healing to do…. I know that spiritually I am still mad at God and the world for the reasons I or we have breast cancer. Can I do something about it? Maybe…. Will I? Maybe ….. I also know I want to heal more sexually around this area of my breasts. I am not ashamed of them. They are a part of me. Does my husband enjoy them as much? probably not…. but who knows maybe yes…. He might like the way they look? I’ll have to ask. If I don’t ask myself these difficult questions I’ll never get the courage to ask him. Thank you for presenting me with other ways to feel and see this experience. Thank you for this blog.

        1. Diana, We are here to listen! The healing goes on for a long time, in fact, I think it continues for the rest of our lives. Body image and all the complexities of that are complicated and evolve over time. And yes, I do consider a mastectomy an amputation. It’s removing a body part, so it’s no different than other types in that regard. Thanks for sharing.

        2. Thank you Diane, oh it is good to hear words that I am thinking. When you talk about the need to remove a body part to save a life, YES YES, hearing campaigns that say “SAVE the BOOBIES, ” even though I miss mine, so not worth keeping if it will cause more harm then good.

  8. Hmmm…..first of all, I’m with you and never had my nipples redone as I’ve NEVER heard of one woman who was satisfied with the outcome when they elected to reconstruct them. I don’t really have nipple envy, but I do have nipple-loss grief/sadness. Let’s face it, the nipples are where we have most of our sensation and it’s very annoying now for me, to have these nice high firm fake breasts that have absolutely no physical sensation. So that’s my biggest beef, the lack of sensation and the tightness and tugging of the implants. Great post, thanks for being so honest, somethings aren’t explained and this is one of the tougher side effects of the whole BC deal.

    1. Claudia, I actually did have nipple construction, it just hasn’t been the best outcome. I may or may not do some tweaking at some point. I agree about that lack of sensation. I also have similar feelings of tightness and tugging. Thanks for reading and taking time to comment too.

  9. I had a nipple sparing mastectomy. I was grateful I was able to keep them. They drive me crazy sometimes because they still react to cold etc. and I can’t really tell, so I have to wear thick bras. Ultimately aesthetically I am happy with the outcome of my reconstruction for what it is, but I do miss my breasts. I miss sensation in the front and back (I had bilateral lat flap reconstruction). It is what it is. I am happy I had reconstruction, but keeping the real thing would have been nice. 🙂

  10. Thanks again for your candor in these posts Nancy. It invites others to share candidly and to not feel alone. That brings healing and helps us muddle through the difficult emotions when they hit. I had bilateral mastectomies and no reconstruction, and I miss both my breasts and the nipples that came with them.
    I am grateful for a patient and loving husband who helped me through the first weeks and months after their removal, when the grief and loss were raw. The emotional healing took longer than the physical. I wouldn’t call it envy, but I still get hit by a wave of loss from time to time. The sensation that I lost when my breasts were removed returned to other places over time. I am grateful for that. Thanks again!

    1. Lisa, Thank you for sharing about your experience, especially I was moved by how you said some of the sensations returned over time to other places in your body. When I read blog posts I always hear and experience my emotions in a new way through other peoples eyes and ears and perspectives. I have heard in the last two years since my surgeries that their mastectomies felt like amputees. I never felt like that because my stomach parts were used to reform my breasts. It was a diep flap reconstruction of both breasts and it happened immediately. I never had to use prosthetics or experience their complete loss. I think like Helen Keller when we lose some aspect of our senses either hearing or sight other senses might become enhanced.

      When I lost feeling from my shoulder down to my waist I was scared and concerned but every day and week and month and now year it seems that my nerves are reconnecting and I am feeling more and more sensations everywhere. I am rebuilding my core and as Nancy responded I am learning to cope with new body parts. Although I have grieved and allow myself to continue to do so. I also feel more alive and appreciative of how well my body heals itself physically and emotionally.

      Your post really spoke to my soul and encouraged me to dig deeper into my body and my mind to listen to my thoughts, my feelings and my experiences. I do not feel alone in them and I want to thank you and Nancy for providing a space to share our inner most thoughts. I am thankful that we can share our experiences and to encourage us to look into all options that might be available to us on our recovery and survivorship journey.

      When I decided to reconstruct my breasts I honestly did it more for my 14 and 16 year old daughters and how they might identify with the loss of my breasts. I also considered my husband because my cancer was very hard on him. Now I realize that for me, I chose reconstructed breasts for me because my insurance would allow it and I had so much tissue from having 6 pregnancies and 5 live babies that I choose to try that option and if I didn’t like them they could be removed. I just knew I was a 45 year old woman and I wanted to live another 45 years. What my body looked like didn’t matter to me at that time.

      Now I just want to be a little old lady who gets to be a grandma someday. With or without “boobs” or “my twins” as I call them. They are mine and I will love them whether flat or round. Thank you for sharing. You opened up my heart and even helped me to bare my chest. No pun intended. I hope we continue to share to inspire each other on our decisions and allow a space for different choices. I hope for a sense of completeness and balance for each one of us. Have a great day and life!

      1. Thanks Diana! Some of my own words that came out of my writing a couple years after my mastectomies came out in this line: “I am not less of a woman, just a woman less her breasts.” I appreciate your sharing as well. Writing down my thoughts and emotions has always been very powerful and helpful to me. To be able to touch another with my words means a lot to me. Keep writing and the completeness comes. I feel more complete now, even minus two body parts, than I ever have. It’s all part of the journey. Onward!

    2. Lisa, Well I do feel envious from time to time. And if I’m going to be really honest, sometimes when I sit watching those movies and TV shows, I wonder what dear hubby is thinking about and missing too. I have never asked him. Like you, I’m grateful for a supportive partner and I know fully well everyone does not have that. Well, when those waves of loss hit from time to time, you’re certainly not alone. Thanks for reading and for sharing about these personal matters.

  11. I am so enjoying your blog Nancy, just this past Tuesday Nov 11 th in fact had my nipple reconstruction. Am I disappointed, yes, looks like nothing I had before, and the procedure itself was so strange, went to OR no need for an IV or sedation , since I was numb. As a nurse I have seen many surgeries, and while I am having this nipple reconstructed, we are talking about politics, and work, and hobbies. just weird I guess. But I miss both of them, even though I had only a right mastectomy and then a free team flap , the left one had a mastoplexy to make things more even, that nipple sensation is also very different then what it used to be. I just miss those sagging older breasts, they were mine. and I could feel them. But it is what it is. Thanks

    1. Tammy, Wow, this is really a timely post for you then. I know what you mean about missing the old parts and yes, it is what it is. I tell myself that a lot it seems. Thank you for reading. I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog. It means a lot to me to hear that.

  12. Whew! Nancy, Thank you! Your blog is such a tremendous gift to me, I can’t even begin to express my gratitude. I totally believe in dealing with feelings and stating our truths straight up. Our society loves to teach us to sugarcoat, undermine, and suppress our natural, raw feelings to the point that denial has become an addiction that many never realize will come back to bite them later.

    My diagnosis was just last May. I am 47, Stage 2a, ER/PR+, HER2- with family history, but no spreading to nodes. I am about to undergo a 3rd lumpectomy. Why? Well, the 2.8cm tumor was removed with clear invasive margins, however, the path came back with DCIS signs, from both 1st and 2nd surgeries. Man, I am getting so many odd reactions to my husband, surgeon’s and my choice to go in a 3rd time. I love my surgeon because he truly wants to spare my the nipple envy you speak of here. Of course, 3 is the limit – if more DCIS shows up, mastectomy it is. Even more so, if my BCRA comes back positive (waiting, waiting, augh…the other interesting part of cancer journey), I just may go the bi-lateral option. My secret fear, which many are not understanding of, and so many dare not speak of: losing the nips! It’s so beyond vanity for me, I am a nature sensory spirit, and all about the body and all its incredible sensations as a whole. Shoot, if it was about my looks, I would be running to get a C cup seeing I have been a full A cup/barely B cup my whole life. My nipples are what I love. I am not even concerned about the lack of tissue in my left breast right now (surgeon is doing such a great job of moving stuff around, though with what little he as to work with), I am feeling the possible mourning of my nipples. NO ONE understands this, it seems – except all of you here. I thank you for this. You are helping me so much in my decision of a 3rd try – hopefully 3 is a charm for me! I do know, that I now have all of you, and my heart is singing today. Surgery is next Tuesday – will keep you all posted what the Path says – and go from there.

    I honestly try not to “go there” yet, as many around me (who have no clue except a few of my friends who are bi-lateral/flap friends that I stay very close to), but I sense the need to keep this real, research my options, I usually tend to not worry about things I am powerless over/or the future, yet this is different. Not necessarily in obsession and worry – I am an upbeat spirit – yet really striving to break the mold of denial, also. That has never served me well in life. Positive attitude is great, but staying in la-la land can be devastating later on. I just want to understand what the journey may entail so I may prepare – but mostly, make informed decisions.

    Your entire site, your honesty, the friends posting their raw, natural feeling, is the “gem” I have been searching for because it helps me keep it real, and feel so less alone! Love and hugs! Pam

    1. Pam, Thank you for your very kind words about my blog. I am sorry you are dealing with these things. Nipple envy is a very real thing and something I never gave much thought to before all this cancer. I miss mine. A lot. And I did reconstruct them, but… It is very important to learn and understand about all of this stuff as much as possible so that you can make informed decisions, and also so that you realize there is loss and grieving involved too. Being honest and candid about such matters helps. As does finding support somewhere. Hopefully your brca test will be negative, but if not, there is support here and in many other places to help you feel less alone. Good luck with everything. And thank you again.

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