Here’s a secret about me that I hadn’t shared publicly until recently — I’m fascinated by tattoos. I’ve always wanted to get tattoos. Seriously.
I was born into a really conservative family and then I chose a really conservative profession. I decided to live in an area that attracts more conservative people than not and I chose conservative places to spend time. Let me just say that I don’t just mean politically conservative in all of these examples but that’s in there too.
Not the most accepting arenas for tattoos.
As a young woman, I also saw several young women who had tattoos get pregnant and saw their once beautiful ink become distorted as their skin stretched and changed and then shrunk again.
I didn’t give in to my desire to decorate my skin for decades. 4 of them in fact.
Then, I discovered that I had Stage IV metastatic breast cancer and so many of the rules and boundaries I lived my life by suddenly didn’t seem as important. Suddenly, my body was doing things and I was dealing with things so far outside my comfort zone. Suddenly, nothing looked the same, least of all my body.
As I write this post in mid-2019, I’ve had a modified lumpectomy to remove the tumor in my left breast that left me with a disfiguring divot in the middle of my chest, a port inserted into my chest that sticks out in a place easily noticeable right underneath my right clavicle, leg surgery to insert rods inside each femur which left me with 10 scars, 5 on each leg, along with a hysterectomy and oophorectomy to remove all of my reproductive organs and left me with scars on my abdomen and an immersion into surgical menopause. The medication I take on a daily basis further impacts my body, thinning my hair, changing my skin and nails.
Most of these changes are on the outside, the inside is even more complicated.
When I began to think about how I was dealing with these changes and how I could use tools available to me to affect positively the changes I’m dealing with, I thought again about getting tattoos. Yes, plural. Remember, I do nothing halfway.
First, I got a beautiful frayed ribbon all in black patterned off of the logo for METup, which highlights how the pink movement and sexualization of breast cancer has failed those of us with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. I had this tattooed right over that disfiguring divot in my left breast. This was the first tattoo I’d ever gotten and it gave me the courage to keep going. I chose a tattoo artist who doesn’t work with color so that the ribbon is stark and sticks out.
Next, I have a dragon that curves around my right hip down to my right knee. It hides the scars from inserting those rods into my femur. I chose an ice blue Chinese dragon because, to me, dragons are creatures demonstrating strength, grace and resilience. I am not Chinese nor am I a big believer in astrology; at the same time, the blue dragon is said to control the movement of the star Alpha Virginis in Virgo, Sagittarius and Libra. I’m a Sagittarius, barely. Blue dragons are also said to symbolize spring, generosity, independence, free mindedness, and creativity. Blue dragons are also related to water. From my experiences with acupuncture, I know that water is related to bones, which is where my cancer decided to reside. I’m also right handed, so having the dragon on my dominant side is also significant.
The dragon on my right leg is holding a hoju, which is a classic image in traditional Japanese art and myth. Believed to be a wish fulfilling jewel and a bringer of good health, the hoju is often depicted as an orb with a pointed top and is occasionally surrounded by flames. The hoju likewise has strong ties to Buddhism and three hoju together are said to represent the three jewels of Buddhism; Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Finally, I have a flowering vine that obscures the scars on my left leg, twins to the scarring on my right leg. While my right leg had the most cancer, it has recovered differently from my left leg. I’ve had the most pain and discomfort and ongoing symptoms in my left leg despite the fact that the objective symptoms are nearly identical on the scans. I chose four flowers to represent December, my birth month, June, my husbands birth month, and March and May, which represent the birth months of my boys. Through this process I learned that December and March have flowers from the same family, while June is the rose (one of my favorite flowers) and May is a small unique flowering vine that just completes my bouquet. Very symbolic representations of my boys.
I’m very much enjoying my new ink and am a little mystified by all the looks I’ve received. My boys are fascinated and I love that some of the things I’ve experienced now have the meaning I’ve found. Next up, matching tattoos with my sweetie. Just still trying to figure out what. If you have a suggestion, feel free to drop me a note!