I admit it; I suffer from nipple envy. I have been for quite some time, but 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. Not one bit. Size and shape are meaningless to me. Now, it’s all about the nipples. My eyes are drawn to them, and I sit there feeling envious.
It’s like every movie or TV show’s plot revolves around leading ladies who have nipples.
I miss mine.
The only times I ever really thought about my 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 reconstructs nipples and in my case, not very successfully. Neither 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 and do co-exist.
And it’s okay, even healthier, to talk about both.
Update: Following my DIEP flap surgery, I’m once again contemplating what to do about nipples. Some of this stuff sure gets old.
Stained-glass artwork in featured photos by Laurie Bieze.