Three-dimensional nipple tattoos are the newest trend for breast cancer survivors undergoing reconstructive surgery.
Valley plastic surgeon Dr. Randall Craft with Cancer Treatment Centers of America just recruited a licensed aesthetician and tattoo artist to offer that final step in helping women get an even better new look to embrace their new beginnings.
Pam Padilla came to the CTCA in Goodyear after two shadows showed up on her mammogram. Doctors diagnosed her with stage 3 breast cancer in both breasts.
After losing her mother to cancer, Padilla didn't want to take any chances. Surgeons removed the malignant tissue, and she went through two rounds of radiation.
"I'm a survivor; I made it! I never thought past that," Padilla said.
After her lumpectomy, the nerves in her breast got tangled in her scar tissue, which adhered to her ribs.
"I was cancer-free, but looking at a life of pain," Padilla said.
"It's like a little contraction, like cement holding that tissue down to the chest wall," Craft explained.
The chronic pain meant constant meds for Padilla.
"It was almost explosive pain, trying to do anything," she said. "Lifting your arm over your head, trying to reach, turn, anything you use those muscles for, was debilitating."
And if it weren't for the pain, she admits she might have just gone on quietly stuffing her bra.
"It's kinda hard to look in the mirror," Padilla said.
"Every time I got out of the shower, it was like I was looking at Steve Wilkos," she laughed.
"And some women feel bad about talking about that," Craft said. "Because it's almost like, 'Isn't being a survivor enough?'"
Craft says about half of his plastic-surgery patients are survivors like Padilla. They wait months, sometimes years, before undergoing reconstruction.
Breasts misshapen from missing mass, radiation-damaged skin and scar tissue, are things he's rebuilding more often now without plastics.
"Some of the advantages of using your own tissue is that it grows and changes with you," Craft explained.
Think boob job from a tummy tuck or using tissue from your thighs or back for a natural implant.
"Surviving cancer doesn't make you feel whole," Padilla said. "I felt a little guilty even with the pain I was feeling.
"I am so glad I did it," she continued. "When I woke up, I was like, WOW! I was ready to go vacuum my floor and dust, all this stuff I hadn't been able to."
In just the past month, Craft brought on an aesthetician to offer another new service -- 3-D nipple tattoos.
"In plastic surgery, we're trained to just color in a circle because we're surgeons, not tattoo artists," Craft said.
"People get very intricate, detailed tattoos on other parts of their bodies. Why are we not applying that to our reconstruction, as well?" he said.
More patients are asking about it.
"I was fearful of just one more step in a journey that I wanted to be finished," Terri Crowell said.
A breast cancer survivor like Padilla, she, too, was reluctant to undergo another procedure.
Laurie Castillo says her work is like the finishing touch.
"It's pretty amazing," she said. "They don't focus on their scars anymore," Castillo says.
She says while some survivors have to get over the mental block that it might be perceived as superficial, all that really matters is their self-image.
"When you look in the mirror and see yourself as normal again, you don't think about it every day," Crowell said.
She and Padilla agree that's when life truly starts to get back to normal.
"My life has gone on!" Crowell said. "And today I will go home and play with my grandchildren when I didn't even know if I'd be able to raise my own children. I have a beautiful life!"
Craft also offers temporary 3-D nipple tattoos for patients to take home and try on to see if they want to take that next step.
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