‘Really well, thanks,’ I answered.
‘And y’know, er… are they okay?’ he asked, endearingly awkwardly.
‘Are you asking me about my Mum’s tits?’
‘Er, yeah, I suppose I am. But in a very concerned, non-pervy way.’
‘Then my Mum’s tits look amazing thanks, mate. I’ll tell her you asked.’
I didn’t, as it goes, instead plumping instead for ‘so you’re all done, then!’ when she came home from hospital.
‘Well almost,’ she said ‘There’s still the nipple thing…’
Of course. I’d forgotten about the nipple thing.
See, a lot of folk think of reconstruction after mastectomy as an ‘NHS boob job’, while anyone who’s actually been through it will a) disagree and b) admit to having had to grimace through the NHS-boob-job quip on a number of occasions. Boob jobs are done to celebrate your curves, and boost your confidence, and make you feel sexy. Reconstruction is done to achieve medical closure, and pay lip service to your insecurity, and put right what cancer – or, in Mum’s case, the threat of cancer – unceremoniously nicked. A boob job is someone replacing your Tesco Value muffin with a Hummingbird cupcake. Reconstruction is someone doing the opposite – after which you can’t thank them enough.
Which is precisely why I’m continually perplexed by the nipple thing. I mean, breast reconstruction is one thing: it enables you to feel like more of a woman again after having lost what many would say was the very essence of your womanliness. I can’t help but feel that nipple reconstruction, however, is its poorer counterpart, lagging behind in the progress stakes somewhat; kind of like being given a brand new iPhone, then buying a protective case made of cardboard.
I’ve made no bones about feeling rather meh about my own nipple reconstruction. Not that I’m saying it’s a poor reconstruction; quite the opposite – it’s yet another example of Smiley Surgeon’s exceptional work but, regardless, it’s still not an identical twin to its natural counterpart. And besides, y’know, it’s just not my nipple. It’s, I dunno, medical. And yes, I know my tits themselves aren’t strictly mine either but, thanks to a) popular perceptions of what Good Boobs look like and b) their sheer magnificence, I dare say I’ve got plenty more happy minutes yet to come of staring at my fake boobs in the mirror.
The fake nipple, though? Not so much.
For those uninitiated in the mechanics of nipple reconstruction (and really, why would you be?), here’s the science bit… There are, to my knowledge, three options: having nipples created from your own body tissue, having nipples tattooed on, or having stick-on nipples made of latex. My nupple is a combination of the former two (of which a similar solution has been offered to Mum) – but something that was never available to me, and yet is available to Mum, is option three.
Right now, Mum’s satisfied – or, at least, as satisfied as she can be – with her new boobs as they are: her surgeon has done a wonderful job, her bust looks brilliant and, I think, she feels much more, well, completed. That’s not to say that she’s decided against the nipple reconstruction, mind: she’s still mulling it over, though I dare say she’ll go for the option-one-and-two combo. What I hadn’t bargained for, however, was her having the latex nips too.
‘Well, they’ve already taken the mould of them,’ she said on the phone this afternoon.
‘Ah, of course,’ I said, remembering the pre-mastectomy process that had so entertained me. ‘So you’re going to get them?’
‘I suppose I might as well,’ she said. ‘For curiosity as much as anything.’
‘But why?’ I asked. ‘I mean, when the hell are you going to wear them?’
‘Well, maybe when…’
‘Actually no, don’t answer that,’ I interrupted. ‘What I mean is, when do people wear them?’
‘I don’t know, really. Maybe they wake up in the morning and think “ooh, it feels like a nipple day today”, or “maybe they’ll go nicely with this top”?’
‘But that’s… weird.’
‘Lots of people have them, Lisa.’
‘I just can’t see why anyone would ever want them,’ I said.
‘Well, you can try on mine when I get them if you like.’
‘Er… no, Mum, you’re all right.’
I looked up latex nipples on the Cancer Research website while writing this and got the following: ‘There are advantages to the latex nipple. It is very realistic and closely matches your real one. And you don’t need any more operations. The disadvantages,’ it reads, ‘are that you have to put it on every day and it may not stay put. The glue can be a bit sticky and messy.’ And, presumably, you could find yourself sitting in an important meeting only to realise that one of your nips has slipped, and your belly-button has suddenly become an outie.
I’m not knocking latex nipples, like – I’m sure latex nipples are perfectly lovely. It’s just that, feeling the way I do after my own cancer-dictated breast surgery, I can’t ever imagine a situation in which I’d want to show them off. And, supposing for a moment that I was the kind of Samantha Jones who, even after a double mastectomy and salping-oophorectomy (AKA ladybits-removal), was somehow confident enough to gamely flaunt my raspberry ripples to any interested party, wouldn’t it be sexier to swerve the NHS-crafted synthetic substitutes and invest in nipple tassels instead?
Then, of course, there’s the issue of whether – assuming that you’re as open with people about this stuff as Mum and I are – there’d be more than enough curiosity about your norks anyway, thank you very much, without adding protruding peanuts to the equation? What Mum chooses to do, of course, is an entirely different matter – and will in no way be swayed by my adolescent opinions. But as and when she decides, I’ll keep you posted. Or perhaps I won’t. I mean, it’s pretty weird blogging about your Mum’s nipples.