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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. Zeroing in on nipples was not something I did.

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.

Stained-glass artwork in featured photos by Laurie Bieze.

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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?

 Nipple Envy, Yeah, I Have that

 

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Jenny Bozzetti

Monday 7th of January 2019

Nancy it's nice to read this post and read about how someone who can relate. I am BRCA2 positive as well, and had a bilateral mastectomy Feb 2, 2018. They also could not spare my nipples. And man did I love the sensation! It's rough because I'm 34 and before cancer was in the dating world but that got de-railed on my cancer journey. I know we're more than just our nipples and someone someday will hopefully love me as is but it's just tough.

Nancy

Thursday 10th of January 2019

Jenny, Boy, I sure do relate. We are more than our breasts/nipples, but they were pretty darn important parts and it's okay to grieve for them and also to be a little (or a lot) mad about having to give them up. I hope you do find that someone out there who will love you just as you are, if that's what you want. Wishing you all the best. Thank you for sharing.

Linda

Friday 6th of April 2018

I had a single mastectomy. At the time of diagnosis I was told that my nipple would be removed. I found that so hard to hear. I had DIEP reconstruction, which is okay but not the 'gold standard breast that would look and feel like the real thing' that I was led to believe. Maybe to someone else it might look or feel the same but to me it could well be stuffed with sawdust and ultimately feels 'wrong'. Anyway, I elected to have nipple reconstruction and it failed pretty quickly. I have had a tattoo which to be honest made me feel worse. That is now fading which I am pleased about, I can't wait for it to be gone. I have tried stick on nipples which I actually prefer, although I can't get anything to match my real nipple. As for the real breast, I had it lifted to try to match the recon. In hindsight I wish I hadn't done this as my remaining nipple was trimmed beyond recognition and now only feels cold and pain. I miss what I had and wish I could have had the wisdom to leave my healthy breast alone. But all through the process I just wanted to have the 'best result possible' but I really didn't appreciate just how sad and disappointed I would feel at the end of the surgery. So yes, I have breast envy and nipple envy. I just hope that it will get easier (but it is already nearly 3 years, how times flies....). Thanks for the blog Nancy, much appreciated. You say things that we are thinking but feel uncomfortable sharing with our nearest and dearest.

Nancy

Wednesday 11th of April 2018

Linda, Many of us, including me, understand. Thank you for sharing about these personal things. Remember it's fine to feel grief and gratitude simultaneously. My best to you as you continue to process through the cancer maze fallout.

Dyanne

Wednesday 4th of April 2018

I never missed my breasts after bilateral mastectomy, because the new ones I got via free tram were way better than the ones I had after years of fibrocystic disease and nursing two babies for a year each. But the nipples, yeah, I miss those. Ornamental ones are fine for what they are, but I miss the sensation from them being touched, from intimacy to clothes brushing against them or suds running down them.

Nancy

Friday 6th of April 2018

Dyanne, I hear you. Such tiny pieces of our anatomy and yet so important. Thank you for sharing.

Cathy Craven

Wednesday 28th of March 2018

Thank you so much for writing this article, Nancy. Although there was no cancer detected in my right breast, I opted to have a bilateral mastectomy as I didn't want to deal with the cancer returning in my breasts. The nipple on my left, cancerous breast couldn't be spared as the tumor was too close to it, and for the sake of symmetry, by right nipple was removed as well, but I was able to keep both areolas. It's strange to see them now, on my reconstructed "breasts," as the tissue still reacts to cold and friction, although I can feel nothing except tightness and scar tissue. There has and continues to be a grieving process that didn't really kick in until active treatment was over and I felt like I finally had room to breathe and reflect. I definitely miss my nipples far more than my actual breasts -- I think, in part, because they nurtured and sustained my four children for so many years and were a source of great physical pleasure for me, now gone forever. Yes, I'm grateful to be alive and am doing relatively well, but I still miss the "old me." As you say, it makes sense that we experience gratitude and loss simultaneously -- that is so much of this life. Talking about these things openly and honestly definitely helps! Again, thank you for this forum in which we can safely do so.

Nancy

Thursday 29th of March 2018

Cathy, There most definitely is a grieving process and I'm not sure it ever ends, or that it even should. I guess I miss my nipples more than my breasts too, which is why I zero in on them now so much, I suppose. I agree, talking about these things helps. A lot. Thank you for your kind words and thank you for being part of the forum.

PamH

Tuesday 21st of July 2015

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

Nancy

Wednesday 22nd of July 2015

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.