gel implants, also known as gummy bear implants, are
growing in popularity in place of older silicon breast
implants like the one pictured above.
see my breasts in the mirror, Iím still surprised.
than a decade ago, lousy reconstructive surgery after a double
mastectomy left my chest looking less like what had suckled my
babies and more like my kidsí kindergarten clay projects. I
never bothered finishing the job with the nipples and areolae,
which struck me as lipstick-on-a-pig-ish. That my breasts were
more porcine than porcelain wasnít evident in clothes, and I
liked my more compact size ó sportier, less inclined to draw
attention. Without nipples I could go braless, with no
indiscrete nibs pointing to the fact or fiction of what was
underneath. Besides, the process that most surgeons use to
create nipples ó grafting skin from the darker pigmented
upper inner thigh ó didnít appeal to me.
beyond it all; beyond the notion that properly shaped breasts
topped with a few raised centimeters of skin would add
meaningful dimension; beyond a culture hungry for images of a
beyond self-consciousness, Iíll admit. Even in a womenís
locker room, I huddled in the corner to undress. If my breasts
hadnít looked muddled, if Iíd had straightforward
mastectomies, maybe I would have stood proudly, showing off my
scars as a testament to my survival.
shirt on, though, I was confident. I was healthy, vigorous and
fulfilled ó that was what mattered.
friend Gail showed me her reconstructed breasts with nipples
that look like the originals. "Theyíre
spectacular!" I exclaimed. Oh, to have natural-looking
breasts with nipples hinting their presence under my shirt! Iíd
never coveted a friendís flip-flops, let alone bodily
assets, yet suddenly I longed for breasts as splendid as Gailís.
I was ready to schedule an appointment with her plastic
surgeon had crafted her nipples ingeniously from breast skin
using small cuts, origami-like folds and dozen of
microstitches. She had been awake during surgery (mastectomies
remove nerves, too) and said that as the surgeon created each
nipple, she grew happier.
envisioned that for myself. But why? I wouldnít be recouping
something serviceable like my pre-menopausal memory or knack
for a witty retort. No one except my husband and I would even
see my nipples. Maybe thatís part of the allure of nipples:
something to hide. Terra incognita.
feel the electricity of a set of "on" buttons, even
if the circuit wasnít fully connected.
going to have nipple reconstruction!" I told a buddy
whose wife had undergone a mastectomy. His response: "Why
bother? Just stick a couple pieces of chewed-up gum there and
husband, too, though less glibly, said that this breast stuff
doesnít matter: "I think youíre beautiful and sexy.
But it seems important to you, so I think you should go
right that what I lacked was lacking mostly in my mind. How
could I be so unevolved? It felt greedy, too, to want breasts
when here I was, alive and well. I tried to understand why
this was so important. Yet I never wavered in my decision.
awoke from the brief procedure to revise my reconstruction, I
fumbled to pull away my hospital gown. I looked down at my
chest, gasped and burst into tears. Hoarse from the breathing
tube, I rasped: "Normal! Theyíre shaped like normal
breasts!" I sobbed and looked again because maybe Iíd
imagined them, and then I sobbed more.
I showed the nurse. "Look!" I showed my husband.
Another nurse came by. "You have to see how beautiful
they are! I canít believe it!" I had to restrain myself
from showing the guy down the hall with the hernia. From the
recovery room I called my daughter, who couldnít understand
me through my blubbering, and when she finally heard me, she
started crying, too.
months later I got my nipples. I emailed Gail: "Itís
like a dream!" The scars on my skin were no longer the
whole story but indications that thereís rich reading
between the lines.
refurbished breasts necessitated some wardrobe adjustment, and
I savored shopping for bras to conceal what I called "the
situation" saluting through my sweaters. After years of
avoiding sexy lingerie, I tried on racy numbers and admired
the way the plunging cups exposed my restored cleavage and the
lace revealed my nipples. Alone at a private pool, I
skinny-dipped for the first time since my mastectomies.
another three months, I returned to my doctorís office to
get my areolae tattooed: imperfect circles with color
variations, like natural ones. My breasts are not perfect, but
they are perfect to me. They have color, dimension and
proportion, and they are splendid. I even have sensation, with
some nerve regeneration in the tissue. Itís stunning to get
back a part of me lost more than a decade ago.
shaped by loss, real loss: my motherís extended illness with
cancer and her death at 48, when I was 17. Coming out of my
cancer diagnosis in my 40s ó misshapen but healthy and here
for my children ó was the ultimate win.
getting my breasts back was not meaningless. Thereís no
recouping the deep losses in our lives, the ones that scar the
soul. So feeling as though Iíve reclaimed a fragment of
something long lost ó thatís something beyond bonus