Monday, July 22, 2013

On Beyond Angelina

When I look back over the longest year of my life, I can't say it's gone off without a hitch.  Each step of my treatment was fraught with complications and statements from doctors that began with some variation of "we only see this in 2% of our patients".

Which leads me to just one of the personal treatment options that didn't go according to plan - reconstruction.

As a recap:  Once upon a time, I possessed a very nice set of boobies.  They weren't large, but they fit the "handful" criteria and I liked them just fine. They tried to kill me - so they had to go.  Then the new Frankenstein boobs we made in their place tried to kill me - so they had to go too.

And eventually I made a surprisingly simple but rather monumental decision - to let this be okay.

In Progress
I decided (cue dramatic music) not to continue to pursue reconstruction.  Instead, I've started work on a mastectomy tattoo that will eventually lace across my chest and down my right arm.

It is a - colorful - line in the sand against the disease that tried to take my life.

No more surgery.

No implants.

No implant revision every ten years.

No MRI's every three years.

No endless worry that something will be missed if someday the cancer were to return.

And though this is not a common path in our society - and certainly not a decision I could have imagined myself making a year ago - it is such a relief to be done with all of it.

Because in nature, when a tree is damaged in some way - perhaps burned (or in my case ran over with a lawn mower) we don't attach fake branches to it and pretend like nothing happened.  We water it, shake a little fertilizer on it and leave it the hell alone.  To grow.  To develop character.  To become all the more beautiful because of the scars that shape it.

The tattoo in progress is a custom piece and incorporates an octopus (chosen for regenerative abilities, intelligence, ability to camouflage) and lotus flowers (grows from mud and thrives in difficult surroundings) is asymmetric and fluid.

The artist, Yakima based Jim Rosal is a ghost of journalism past - I wrote a story about him for Yakima magazine years ago and through that process gained a great deal of respect for his style and mastery of the craft - particularly his custom pieces.  (Here's a link to the story I wrote if you'd like to read more about the shop

Ultimately I chose Jim because I trust his work - but more than that, I trust him as a person.  Tattoos - and the artists that create them -  are always a personal decision, but there was a great deal riding on getting this one "right".   We've spent many hours bonding  - just me, Jim and a very noisy needle - and  I could not be happier with my decision.

This is Jim outside his tattoo shop in Yakima.  Photo by Jennifer Borst
This is one of the shelves filled with tattoo inks.  Jim and Jenni's shop is filled with layers of eclectic trinkets collected over the years.  I've spent many hours there and always seem to find something new to look at.  Photo by Jennifer Borst
The intent for this project was to physically transform something that was taken away from me into something beautiful again - but I couldn't have imagined the difference it would make psychologically.  I choose clothing to show off this new artwork rather than hide away from scars and I am no longer self conscious - even to myself.  Complete strangers stop me in the grocery store to ask about the work - and we dawdle in the cereal isle discussing breast cancer and youth and the failures of our medical system.

Ironically, in the aftermath of a rather disfiguring surgery - I've never felt so confident.

There's an old adage in the industry - people receive the tattoo they deserve.  If that's the case, although it's been hard won, I must have done something pretty amazing somewhere along the line.

Thanks Jim.  See you Saturday.