Monday, November 25, 2013

My super-awesome double mastectomy (part 2): I HAVE NO NIPPLES!

Ask me to show you my boobies and I’ll likely do it. It’s not that I’ve become more liberated since having a double mastectomy and reconstruction, or that I’m particularly interested in giving anyone nightmares. Honestly, it’s more like the boobs that elicited modesty, that were actually the boobs I was born with, are gone and in their place are two mounds of flesh that are way perkier but still not my boobs. They’re just that leftover belly fat I bitched and moaned about, the stubborn postpartum pouch.
Hey now, that's an idea!
And one other minor detail: My breasts have no nipples right now. I know that blows some people’s minds. Nipple-sparing mastectomies are common these days, but the invasive mass in my right breast was directly below the nipple. Thus, off with my nipples! When I told one of my friends this, her husband pointed out that if I went topless on TV, I’d need no blurring out. After all, that most “offensive” part of the breast is not there anymore. So I guess now would be an excellent time to get my topless talk show deal inked. CBS, NBC? ABC Family? Anybody?
Anyway, instead of nipples, I have surgical incisions that form a circle on each breast. The nipples will be rebuilt at a later time, and the pigment tattooed on. My first tattoo. Maybe I’ll get my nipples in the shape of stars or hearts. Or a nipple-within-a-nipple. That would be mind-blowing.
Heather and the new girls
I don’t even remember the first time I saw “them,” my new breasts. It actually didn’t occur to me to look at the surgical aftermath till some time later. Maybe a little part of me was slightly afraid. I don’t know what I was expecting to find. My breasts fashioned into a nifty Jell-O mold? Gargoyles?
But I do remember peeking at them, finally, in one of those first few days, when the nurses were stalking me with the Doppler—every hour on the hour—to make sure the wonderous sound of blood flowing through the arteries could still be heard. The new girls actually didn’t look bad. They were pretty bruised up, like sorority girls who had accidentally wandered into a biker chick bar. They were also more voluptuous on account of them being so swollen.
This was NOT how Sal reacted the first time
he saw reconstructed breasts,
although some men apparently do.
The first time the nurse did the Doppler check with Sal in the room, she asked me if I wanted him to stay. I guess some women are uneasy about their husbands seeing their breasts in that state, or maybe some husbands are the fainting types. But whatever. I was smart enough to include a “for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, with or without nipples” clause in my wedding vows.
What really threw me for a loop was the first time I was allowed to get up and move around. That’s when I noticed my abdominal incision went a little beyond hip to hip. This cut gave me another fun idea: Maybe Sal and I could go to my plastic surgeon appointments with Sal dressed up as a magician carrying a saw, and me as his assistant. I’d wear an incision-baring outfit and we’d sit in the waiting room, bemoaning our failed magic trick. Hey, come on! Some people might find that funny, right?
But I digress.  From what I’ve been told by any number of nurses and doctors who came in to study and snap pictures of my boobs with their smart phones—uh, I’m pretty sure they were part of my medical team—my boobs were a thing of beauty. I saw the breast surgeon and the plastic surgery folks at least once a day, and each time that post-mastectomy bra came off, there were oohs and ahhhs. I felt like a Lord & Taylor holiday window display. Everyone agreed: I ended up with very good results. Most likely, the very thing that sucked so badly about this whole ordeal—my young age—was also my saving grace in aesthetics and healing. One of my ICU nurses had told me that she had taken care of a patient whose breast flap had failed. I shuddered. I couldn’t imagine going through all of this, only to have to go back to the drawing/cutting board.
Going home
Me and My Drains: a topless daytime talk show,
premiering in January on NBC.
I “busted” out of the hospital a day early, on Nov. 15, tethered to Jackson-Pratt drains (or bodily fluid and tissue hand grenades, as I like to call them). There were four total, draining my surgical sites and killing all desire to ever eat chicken broth and wonton soup again. My task at home would be to squeeze the ever-living shit out of the drainage tubing to keep the flow going. The nurses and doctors called this “milking the drains,” which is not to be confused with the same phrase teenage boys use.
                Now, for anyone reading this who doesn’t know me personally, you may be taken aback by how I joke about all of this. But seriously, I did all my crying in that first month after I was diagnosed—more than I care to remember. And for the rest of my life, I’ll have cancer and the possibility of recurrence casting a long shadow over me, dogging me at every breast MRI and whatever other testing I have to be subjected to. So I need to keep my sense of humor. I need to laugh in the face of mortality. And you should, too. After all, none of us are getting out of this world alive.


  1. Weird that the business end of the boob is the "offensive" part. Because nobody wants to be reminded of their actual biological function--icky-poo. :/ Wishing you as easy a recovery as possible!

    1. Totally! Which is why breastfeeding women seem to get harassed, even though they have the legal right to feed their babies in public. Boobs are sexy until they become utilitarian and/or diseased, as in my case. I'm totally getting pictures of my nipple-less boobs taken. And I'll post them. BAM!

  2. Heather, you are making me laugh with the joy of being alive, for today, for this moment, for as long as it lasts. And that is so much better than being afraid of dying - which I think makes you afraid of living, along the way.

    Thanks for your courage and your bravery and your willingness to share all of it.

    1. Thank you, Carrie! I'm trying my best. I don't always feel strong, but when I do, I blog and drop the F-bomb a lot. :-)