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Feeling Whole Again - Nipple Reconstruction and Areola Tattooing

Of the many things that need healing after breast cancer or mastectomy, our relationship with our body is perhaps the most important. Finding a way to feel physically and

emotionally at peace with how we look requires a reframing of our self-image. 


For many women who lost their nipples during this process, nipple reconstruction and areola tattoos help with confidence and reclaiming identity. Joanne Korzenko, one of the survivors we spoke to, said her areola tattoo made her feel complete and more confident dating. 

Marnie Rustemeyer, breast and ovarian cancer previvor and areola tattoo artist chatted with us about her experience tattooing. “When you have a part of your body removed that has always been there, not only does it affect you physically, but it affects you emotionally as well. Loss of confidence, loss of self, loss of womanhood, loss of hope, and doubt that you will ever be the same again. But after I do the tattooing and women tell me they catch a glimpse of themselves out of the shower, while getting dressed,  or even when being intimate with their partner, and feel more confident and beautiful-that is everything! To help survivors identify positively with their newly changed bodies and regain the self-confidence that cancer took away is absolutely the most rewarding part of my job.”

Brilliantly staffer Angie Karamchandani, who also underwent a preventative mastectomy and oophorectomy said she hasn’t considered nipple reconstruction yet. “I am still just beginning to accept my new body, and figuring out if I will stay this size, if my implants are right for me, and if the indentations and chronic back pain are something I can live with, or if I will need another revision surgery. Nipple reconstruction is something that feels like an end phase. I may look into it once I am able to look into the mirror and see something that looks and feels more like me.”

Nipple tattooing can be done anytime after the reconstructed breast has had time to heal, at least three to four months but sometimes women wait longer. And, as Angie pointed out, the time to think about it is when you feel done with breast reconstruction and ready to finish the process. Joanne, who had unilateral reconstruction, waited until she was happy with the symmetry between her natural and reconstructed breast, which took multiple surgeries.  

Marnie weighed in on the emotional timing for tattooing, saying that she’s “met women who have held off on finishing their journey because they didn’t feel like they were worth it or that their breasts could not look any better with all of the scarring.” 

Areola tattooing can be done whether or not a women has had surgical nipple reconstruction, as the pigment can be applied to create the illusion of 3D nipples. “Nipple and areola tattooing can provide a level of emotional healing that nothing else can,” Marnie said.

This type of tattooing is so challenging and important, and survivors deserve to have their breasts restored fully, not just surgically.

1. It’s always important to talk to your doctor first and make sure that your body is healed and ready. Your plastic surgeon might also know a few tattoo artists and be able to show you examples of their work.

2. You can reach out to Marnie and other vetted artists at this website:

3. And, head to instagram for examples of final results. 

4. If you’re still looking for more information, or want to talk to someone who has gone through it, you can always reach out to us at and we’ll connect with someone from the Brilliantly community.

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