Peggy: Your breasts are kind of something that define you as a woman. So, being told that I had to have a double mastectomy was devastating.
Peggy: When I took the bandages off, and I saw my breast for the first time, it didn’t look like me. There were no nipples. There was no areola. It was just skin and scars. I wrote in my journal at one point, I kind of looked like an alien, and it was alien. It was not what I was used to.
Dr. DellaCroce: We found over the years that the best way to recreate the substance of the nipple is simply creating incisions in the area where we want the nipple to be on the breast skin. The technique is much like the Japanese art of paper folding — origami. We’re taking a flat, two-dimensional bit of skin, and we’re reorganizing it into a three-dimensional construct.
Peggy: They asked, “Would you like to have nipples?” I said to him, “You know, I would like to look normal again, but I have a concern.” And he said, “What’s that?” And I said, “I like to go without a bra,” and I said, “Um, you know, I don’t want these big nipples that are sticking out, and so I want to be able to look natural again, but I also sometimes if I’m wearing a little sundress, I don’t want to have to wear a bra.” So, he said, “Oh, I can fix you up.”
Dr. DellaCroce: 3D nipple tattooing, as a means of recreating the facsimile of the nipple, is a relatively new art. It’s intuitive that the rendering should have depth, that should have realism, and what you see in the mirror should mimic mother nature. And if the painter, or tattoo artist, has the skills and attention to detail, they can recreate that depth. They can recreate highlights; they can recreate variation in pigment and other elements that are ultimately reminiscent of a real nipple.
Vinnie Myers: Nipple tattooing is an ever-evolving art form for me. So, it’s not something that you learn, and then you know, and you do it. It’s, it’s constantly changing.
Dr. Sullivan: You decide, well, you know, we’re special to what we do, and so we could do better than most people in microsurgery. Let’s find a tattoo artist that knows how to tattoo skin and what pigments look like. And there you go, Vinnie, the master.
Vinnie Myers: I tattooed for probably 20 years before I started doing this. You know, I was known for realism. I did predominantly realistic-looking tattoos, portraits of people, animal, pets, and things like that. I didn’t really choose to do the nipple thing; it kind of came. And then, when my sister was diagnosed, it completely changed that, and I felt like, well, this maybe is the reason why I’m tattooing in the first place.
Dr. Sullivan: The 3D tattoo that Vinnie does it’s remarkable. I remember the first time I saw one in person; I had to go six inches away and had to touch it because it looked like it was there.
Dr. DellaCroce: Tattoo artists carry a different set of tools and a different set of expertise. I always make the joke, never have a tattoo artist do your surgery, and never have a surgeon do your tattoo. Find the expert.
Peggy: Since I’ve had the 3D nipple tattooing, I think actually, well, I know I look better than I did before I had my mastectomy.
Dr. Sullivan: In my opinion, aesthetically, I think the nipple has great value. It can give you a result that hardly anyone would know that you had breast cancer and breast reconstruction.