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At some point in their journey, every cancer survivor will need to make the decision to undergo breast reconstruction or to go without. For women that choose to go through with reconstruction, the actual procedure is a simple and straight-forward process. Most surgeons are well-verse in the reconstruction process, making the procedure uncomplicated.
Reconstructing the nipples, however, is a completely different issue. The delicate tissues that make up the nipple and areola are usually removed during the reconstruction process. While it's possible to recreate a nipple-looking piece of tissue from skin grafts, it requires another operation. Many women choose to get a nipple-shaped tattoo instead of undergoing yet another painful, expensive operation.
Unfortunately, not very many surgeons bother exploring nipple tattoo options outside of their own practice. These doctors end up tattooing the nipples themselves. While this tattoo has the benefit of happening in a sterile surgical office with a low risk of infection, the overall quality of most nipple tattoos leaves something to be desired. For patients, this can be a huge let-down.
Unless they get a “Vinnie” (or “Vinnies”), that is. Tattoo artist Vinne Meyers first started tattooing realistic-looking nipples on cancer survivors back in 2001 after being approached by a local plastic surgeon. Soon, word of his talents had spread so far and wide within the cancer survivor community. Nipple tattoos quickly eclipsed the rest of his designs. These days, he inks more than 2,000 nipple tattoos per year, which averages out to around 7-8 nipple tattoos on a typical weekday.
Most plastic surgeons only have a few hours of tattoo experience before they start working on patients, which is less time than an apprentice spends cleaning tubes (much less tattooing). Because Mr. Meyers is an accomplished tattoo artist, he has the ability to take skin tone and shading into account. Women have visited his shop from as far away as India in order to get the most realistic nipple tattoos possible. And Mr. Meyer’s 19-year-old daughter, Anna, plans to apprentice under him as soon as she graduates from college with her art degree in 2017.
In addition to most surgeons not being well-versed in the art of tattoo, nipple designs on reconstructed breast tissue are further complicated by the nature of the skin. Many women may only have “a millimeter or two” of skin to work with, and someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing could do permanent damage, including scars – which is the one thing that choosing a tattoo over nipple reconstruction is supposed to avoid.
Vinnie Meyers works out of his tattoo shop, “Little Vinnie’s”, located in Finksburg, MD. He has a website you can peruse, as well as a gallery of his nipple tattoo work.