MONMOUTH COUNTY, NJ: Breast Cancer Survivor, Stephanie Wagner, AKA The Nipple Nurse RN, is thankful every day for the beautiful life she shares with her husband Jae of 19 years, and their two teenage children, Emily and JJ.
"I am 47 years old, and I am married to the most amazing man who I met when we were both 19 years old. We have a beautiful life that I am thankful for every moment of every day." When you hear Jae and Stephanie speak about one another, it's quickly obvious that they are one of those special couples. They have a great mutual respect for one another, and a very loving and close relationship.
Jae comments, "Everyone always feels good around Stephanie because she is genuinely so warm and friendly. When I first met her I immediately felt comfortable, I knew she was the one."
Stephanie earned her curious title The Nipple Nurse RN, after her personal journey with breast cancer. "I had asked my reconstructive surgeon Dr. Asaad Samra, 'What do women do for nipples when they have a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery?' Dr. Asaad explained to me that when there are mastectomy cases where the nipples cannot be saved by modern advances in breast surgery, an option for patients is to have 3D nipple and areola tattooing. I was amazed at how natural the nipple tattoos looked. The seeds were planted that day in my mind. I knew I had to one day help other women regain a sense of normalcy after mastectomy."
Stephanie has been a registered nurse for almost 25 years, specializing in emergency room trauma for most of those years, helping others who were dealing with a medical crisis. Today she works in recovery in a surgery center. "Working as an RN in the ER, I was used to taking care of others. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, the transition from nurse to patient was not an easy one for me."
Stephanie Shares Her Breast Cancer Journey With TAPinto:
Stephanie had her first mammogram at 36, and the results came back perfectly clear of any issues. It was two years later when she says that her results began to look different. "When I went back two years later at 38, they compared the results to my first one and there were many changes."
So, for the next four years, Stephanie had to have mammograms every 6 months. "I think I had a total of 10 biopsy’s within that time. I call that time period the emotional and physical roller coaster. Each time wondering what they would find. When the results were negative it was a relief, but still in the back of my mind I wondered what the next 6 months would show."
It was March 2014, when Stephanie got the call that 'the last biopsy didn’t look great'. She needed to go for an MRI to get a better look at it. "I will never forget I needed the test and I had to wait for insurance approval. The test could only be done at a certain time of the month according to my cycle, so of course I just missed that window waiting on approval. I had to wait an additional 3 weeks, until my hormones would not mask anything. Those 3 weeks felt like a lifetime."
This time Stephanie's results came back, and they were not good.
"I had cancer in one of my breasts. I remember thinking to myself cancer will not define me, how I deal with it will define me. I was very fortunate to have a strong support system; my husband and my parents, other family members and friends, and my kids were amazing. Emily and JJ were young, and we were very honest with them at all times. I felt that their imaginations might be worse than the truth, so we kept them in the loop the entire time. "
Given the pattern of abnormal mammograms, Stephanie was faced with making the decision with her surgeon Dr. Debra Camel, whether to remove one or both breasts. "All through the journey I learned so much. Both my breast surgeon Dr. Camel and my reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Asaad Samra, of Samra Plastic Surgery were wonderful - in every sense of the word. Both were compassionate and truly caring throughout the whole process. I was confident that I was receiving the best medical care and that enabled me to have hope."
Stephanie was fortunate that she was receiving regular mammograms.
Dr. Camel commented to TAPinto, "About 20% of women who are recommended to get annual mammograms do not go for this important annual screening. Early detection makes a very big difference in both treatment and survival. Also, if you see something, say something - I see many women every year (and even a few men), who have an obvious change in the breast for months or longer before they finally see a doctor or get a mammogram. Fear can be paralyzing, but almost every case of breast cancer is treatable regardless of stage."
As an emergency room nurse Stephanie did not often see cancer patients, so the treatment was all new to her. "I would ask Dr. Samra so many questions. He patiently and thoroughly answered them all. From the beginning I really didn’t want to be “a patient” so I asked Dr Samra and Dr Camal to talk to me like a nurse instead of a patient. This was my way of dealing with and having some sense of control over the process. Dr. Camel and Dr. Samra treated my family and I with so much respect and professionalism. I can’t even explain how they truly helped us have the confidence to walk the journey."
After thoroughly discussing all the options with her doctor and her husband, Stephanie agreed the best decision was to have both breasts removed. Stephanie's husband Jae commented, "When you hear the words from a doctor that your wife has cancer I cannot begin to express the emotions that you feel. I knew my wife was strong after I saw her give birth to our two children, but once she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was driven to beat it. She was laser focused on her plan and never second guessed her anticipated outcome of victory."
Dr. Camel commented to TAPinto, " For women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, surgical options vary and are very individualized based on age, stage of cancer, genetic status, and the wishes of the patient. Shared decision-making is a very important concept in the field of breast health and breast cancer. Patients collaborate with their physicians, and physicians collaborate with each other to form treatment plans that are tailored to the individual . Options can range from lumpectomy to mastectomy, with reconstruction using an implant or a woman's own excess tissue to form a new breast. Some types of breast cancer may even be treated with systemic therapy before surgery, including hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy."
Stephanie agreed to have both breasts removed and the double mastectomy surgery was performed by Dr. Camel, at Hackensack Meridian Health Riverview Medical Center, in Red Bank, NJ. "A double mastectomy proved to be the best decision I could make. I could not ask for better doctors and the care at Riverview Medical Center was excellent. After the surgery, my second breast also came back with pathology reports that indicated cancer. I know how lucky I am, believe me."
Dr. Camel continues, "One of the advances in the field of breast surgery is the availability of nipple sparing mastectomy (for selected patients), with the surgical scar located just under the breast for the most natural cosmetic result. Another treatment improvement has been longer survival and better quality of life in many patients with metastatic breast cancer (stage IV) due to treatment improvements and availability of clinical trials."
After her double mastectomy, the physical and mental healing began for Stephanie and her family. "My husband Jae who is not a medical professional, took such good care of me. I came home with 4 drains and Jae drained them for the first week when I couldn’t do it easily. More importantly, he continued to look at me as if I was the same person he married, never once was he uncomfortable with what he saw on me or the lack of what he saw on me. I remember at Dr Camal’s follow-up visit she was impressed with how comfortable we were with each other. I being only 42, sitting there on her exam table with a completely flat chest, mild bruising, and 4 bloody drains hanging out of the sides of me, and Jae and I sat there talking like nothing had changed...that’s true love."
Stephanie had survived her journey, she knew how lucky she was. She was so thankful to everyone in her support system. However, there was one thing missing. She wanted to help others who were facing the journey. I wanted to comfort other women. I thought how comforting it would it be for these woman to come to another woman, who had also been in their situation. I recalled my conversation with Dr. Asaad and I found a school that teaches 3D Nipple and areola tattooing. I immediately signed up, packed my bags, and went to the school." Today, Stephanie is a go to in NJ for 3D Nipple and Areola Tattooing. Her husband Jae commented, "I was in awe of my wife’s tenacity and strength from the days leading up to her mastectomy, to the physical and emotional pain of the double mastectomy and then the reconstruction. She is a warrior, and I couldn’t be more proud of her and how she turned her cancer experience into a way to help make other women feel whole again with her nipple tattooing."
Dr. Asaad Samra comments, "
Vanessa, a patient of The Nipple Nurse RN, commented, "Stephanie Wagner did my post double mastectomy tattoos. She is a perfectionist and really takes her time to do an excellent job. She’s also very caring, which helps during a very sensitive time. We had fun during our tattooing sessions, chatting like old friends. I wouldn’t have trusted anyone else to do my tattooing. The results definitely changed how I felt about my breasts after my mastectomy. I didn’t realize that I would benefit so much from the tattoos and even thought, “Why bother getting them done?” But as soon as we did the first round of tattooing, I said, “Wow, now I can change my clothes at the gym!” I didn’t even realize WHY I hadn’t wanted to change my clothes at the gym. As soon as she did the tattoo, I realized why. I didn’t want people to wonder why I didn’t have any nipples. Now, no one will question it! I found out about Stephanie through my doctor, who recommended her."
Dr. Asaad Samra Comments to TAPinto: "Stephanie is quite a remarkable woman, nurse and person. I was honored to be involved in her care. She has taken a difficult experience and time in her life, and has turned it into a positive force in not only her life, but in the life of others as well. Whether for a single breast mastectomy or a double mastectomy, nipple and areolar reconstruction is an integral part of completing the reconstructive process. I have been lucky to be able to have Stephanie come and tattoo many of my other patients, and they couldn’t be happier with their results."
The process of tattooing takes a good 2 hours, then a touch up 6 weeks later. "I usually have some good conversations with them, we talk about everything. For those that know me, they will attest I enjoy talking and listening to people."
Stephanie's son JJ commented, “My mom never let cancer stop her from being the best mom to me and my sister. She always puts us first, her first thought was to make sure me and my sister weren’t scared and then take care of herself. Now that my mom has beat cancer, she is helping to make other women with the same diagnosis feel strong and confident, again, like her.”
Stephanie loves her tattooing work. "The highlight for me is giving back a little normalcy to my patients. I have had a few patients that have been married for a long time, and they told me that they have not let their husbands see them without a shirt or bra since before their mastectomy. So my goal is to make them feel and look so good that they can’t wait to show their husbands."
Stephanie's daughter Emily adds, “I am extremely proud of the work my mom does. My mom always has everyone else’s feelings and well-being in mind. She is such a charismatic person, inside and out. So much so, that she took her own battle with cancer and now through her Nipple Nurse RN, is able to reach out to other breast cancer patients and make them feel more comfortable. She changes people’s lives and I hope that one day I will be able to impact people the way my mom does. I’ve never met anyone so selfless and thoughtful and I could only pray to be like her.”
"I would like to dedicate this article to my dad who I miss so much since he passed from cancer this past year...He was my biggest fan." Stephanie Wagner.
Check out her facebook site: The Nipple Nurse RN https://www.facebook.com/pg/The-Nipple-Nurse-RN-1611882375523933/posts/ or visit thenipplenursern.com