Tattooing One Nipple at a Time

Stephanie Wagner, aka The Nipple Nurse RN, is a registered nurse who is helping women with mastectomies get their nipples back through the art of tattooing.

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When Stephanie Wagner turned 40 years old she went to get her first mammogram and everything seemed normal but just two years later her results had completely changed. Her life was drastically altered and then revolved around getting biopsies and mammograms every 6 months. When Stephanie turned 43 one of the biopsies resulted in a positive for cancerous cells and Stephanie was able to get a double mastectomy. “The positive thing was they found it so early that I did not need chemo or any radiation, my lymph nodes are still intact, so it was great. The roller coaster of every six months not knowing what they were going to find was finally over and I thought great I can have the double mastectomy and I can move on.” Stephanie had chosen to receive a double mastectomy but then after her MRI with contrast, her team realized she had pre-cancerous cells in both breasts making that choice a necessity. “For me, this choice was a no brainer because I wanted to be done with it. I wanted to know I would be here and be here healthy for my family.”

After her double mastectomy, Stephanie knew she wanted to get breast reconstruction. “For me to have put back what was taken away, made me feel like I was still the same.” May 5 will mark Stephanie’s 6th year after receiving her mastectomy and she has found that no one talks about her cancer which is what she wanted. “I wanted to move on with my life after having cancer and the reconstruction was a way to do that. So when I looked in the mirror I wouldn’t be reminded of what was taken from me.” For Stephanie having breast reconstruction allowed her to return to feeling normal but her breast cancer journey does not stop there.

“When I was going through all of this I would speak to my plastic surgeon and ask ‘what happens with women’s nipples?’ I learned there were places you could go but there weren’t many. When I was done with everything I went to cosmetology school to learn how to do a 3D nipple tattoo.” Stephanie was lucky enough to keep her natural nipples because the doctors caught it early and the cancer was not located near the nipples. After her surgery, Stephanie knew she was one of the very few who got to keep her natural nipples and became curious about what options other women had. “My doctors educated me and I thought ‘I have to do something’. I am so thankful that I look the way I look and I knew I had to give back. I thought because I am a female, I’m a nurse, and I went through the surgery, I would be someone they would feel comfortable coming to.”

With the nipple tattoo being the last step in the reconstruction process Stephanie gets to be the person who helps complete a cancer survivor’s fight to feel “normal” again. After a person’s scars have healed their surgeon will recommend seeing Stephanie to receive a nipple tattoo. After a consultation with her, Stephanie then works to create a nipple that is the right color and size for that person. “My favorite part of the process, without a doubt, is when they stand up and look in the mirror for the first time. When they stand up and I see their face smile, it makes it all worth it.” While doing the tattoo Stephanie lets each person customize their experience either speaking with them and she even had one patient who just wanted to meditate. “Everyone’s journey is their own journey and I try to just give my support. I really am a huge listener because I don’t want my thoughts and opinions to interfere with their journey.”

Stephanie has had the opportunity to meet many women in different stages of their breast cancer journeys but her favorite part will always be when they feel whole again. “I have had many patients who after their mastectomies never take off their bra, not even for their husbands. Now with the nipples, they run home to their husbands and lift their shirts up saying ‘look!’. For me, that is worth everything because it is giving that person a feeling of looking normal again.” Stephanie also knows that not every person feels like they need a tattoo and that they love their body, she also knows that some women don’t get reconstruction. “For people who don’t get reconstruction I support that also. At the end of the day, you have to do whatever will make you happy.”

Stephanie has had a long journey just like so many other breast cancer survivors and knows how important feeling good about yourself is. “You don’t want cancer to win. If you get up every day and you look at yourself differently and you feel differently about yourself in a negative way, then cancer won. Cancer should never win.” For Stephanie having a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction was the way to finally beat cancer, now she is helping other women feel the same with nipple tattoos. “You don’t realize when you’re going through it how many people are watching you. When you’re done with it and you have fought that fight you give encouragement to those people who are still fighting the fight. I want to give people happiness one breast at a time.”

To learn more about Stephanie please visit her website thenipplenursern.com.

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