I try desperately to relax and keep calm lying on the table as the doctor pinches my breasts and injects the lidocaine all around. But the burning does me in. And before you know it my hands are clenched into tight fists and I’m shuffling my feet all agitated and distressed. “What was I thinking having nipple areola tattooing again,” I ask myself. I must be a glutton for punishment. My needle phobia isn’t helping me right now to keep calm and nipple on.
The first time I have nipple areola tattooing is in 2005. It’s the final phase of my breast reconstruction. The esthetician does not use lidocaine to numb the breasts. “It gets in the way of the ink penetrating into the skin,” she explains gently. I’m a bit anxious about the whole thing. I hate needles. I dislike pain. Unfortunately, tattooing encompasses both.
I sigh, agreeing to persevere. It can’t be any worse than what I’ve already been through, right? Wrong. It hurts. It really, really hurts. An hour or so later, she’s worked her magic needles, and voila, my breasts have beautiful re-pigmented areolas. The realism is startling. I actually like what I see.
Gradually, the tattooing fades over time. Two years later the areola pigmentation has completely vanished. At the suggestion of my doctors, I have my breasts re-tattooed, reluctantly, very, very reluctantly. Luckily, this time it doesn’t hurt as much. The esthetician uses a darker ink, and voila an hour or two later, I have a nice set of areolas. This time, they stay with me for quite awhile, before eventually fading into yet another memory.
“I really miss my nipples.” I read this statement in a story I come across while flipping through a magazine in a doctor’s office years before my breast cancer diagnosis. The comment from this survivor strikes me as being petty. I think, “Shouldn’t she just be grateful to be alive?”
And then I get breast cancer. And I opt to have bilateral mastectomy as my treatment. I say goodbye to my girls, sayanora to my nipples, orevuar to my areolas. I’m left with two firm, equally protruding, nearly perfectly round mounds. They look great, but a little naked, if you will, without all the trimmings.
Over this summer I meet with a doctor for another problem. During our chat he mentions he does nipple areola tattooing. He uses lidocaine during the procedure. I mention I was told it interferes with ink penetration. “It’s simply not true,” he says discrediting what the esthetician stated. He assures me he can tattoo areolas that will not fade away.
For a month or so I deliberate the pros and cons then give in to my desires. I schedule an appointment for what will be my third tattooing. Yes, I am grateful to be alive and healthy, but for reasons I cannot simply explain, I really miss my nipples and areolas. There, I’ve said it.
The week before Thanksgiving I get tattooed. The procedure is less than fun. The results are really nice. The only thing left is the usual topical care. Somehow I’ve completely forgotten about the allergic rashes I get from using bacitracin in large amounts and for extended periods of time. This is what happens when you turn 50. You forget stuff like this. The itching is relentless. I do my best to refrain from scratching like a chimpanzee while grocery shopping and at social gatherings. Sometimes I just can’t help myself, I’m so itchy, itchy. I wonder what people are thinking when staring at me. I shrug it off, thinking, “C’est la vie.”
My girls are all healed. They’re looking really good. But I’ve decided, no matter what happens after this time, no more nipple areola tattooing, regardless of how much I might miss my nipples. I will remind myself, it’s the bigger picture I should be most grateful for.