A Work In Progress

“Get your shoes on–you need to come with me” I stated matter of factly as I walked in the house. My husband, who was playing the new Tiger Woods WII golf game I gave him for Father’s Day looked up and wondered what was going on. I moved directly toward the cupboard above the kitchen sink where I kept all my meds and as I opened the door, I knew exactly what I was going to need–Vicadin and Ibuprofen–And a lot of it. I figured with what I was about to do, I needed to get a jumpstart on curbing the pain factor.

I have never been a big “taker” of things. I am a lightweight. I admit it. I never liked that feeling of the room spinning, dry heaving from drinking too much, or the next day’s hangover. I hated not being in control–(there we go again). However, after my mastectomy, I found that my pain tolerance was off the charts. I was also in extreme emotional distress and I was very glad for those pills which helped keep me out of it for two weeks straight. I had a few Vicadin pills left over from my mastectomy and decided I was going to take advantage of them on this evening. I popped two of them and 4 Ibuprofen, grabbed my debit card, my camera, my hubby and away we went.

I wasn’t nervous at all as we drove. Jeff asked, “what’s going on?”.

I simply stated, “I’m going to get a tattoo”. He couldn’t believe it. Me. The pain wimp.

“You’re joking, right?” he said.

“Nope”, I replied.

“Where are you putting it?” he came back with.

“On the nape of my neck”, I said.

“Geez, that’s gonna hurt like Hell. I’ve heard that’s a really painful place to put it”, Jeff said.

“I’m not worried about it.” I smiled.

“You’re never gonna go through with it”, he looked at me smirking.

“Watch me”, I retorted.

We drove into the parking lot of the Scorpion’s Den, a local tattoo parlor. Ironically, the building that houses the business actually used to be my husband’s late grandmother’s house. He can remember playing in the house when he was a little boy. He was amazed at the changes and began to talk to the owner about which room used to be used for what. The owner asked him to bring in a picture of the house or the rooms and he was very interested in framing them and hanging them in his business.

While the men were talking, I went over to the scariest looking guy there that night. I struck up a conversation with him and showed him on the computer the image I wanted. As he sized up the image and traced it out on the transfer paper, I took a few minutes to look through some of the artwork. I couldn’t believe I was about to do this. I had always been against tattoos–personally. I am all for freedom of expression and didn’t care what anyone else did, but for me–it wasn’t a statement I wanted to make. I had never felt like “owning” anything like that before, but what that girl said to me in the wig boutique changed my mind. I was also beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, I had grown up a little too much. Its hard for me to explain because anyone that knows me–knows I live in a kid’s wonderland–literally. I play with kids, teach kids, hang with kids, laugh with kids, chase kids, swing with kids, paint with kids, etc. How could I be ‘too’ grown up?

Since I am entrusted with kids each day, I maintain a very high quality childcare in my home–one of the top in Scott County, IA. Since my business is kids, I’m not just asked to play with the kids, I am also obligated to teach them and to guide them in making good choices. I have to be an example to them–a good role model. So, in almost 14 years of providing care and having a ball doing it–had I essentially grown up and forgotten what it was like to really just have fun and let loose–lose control–personally–on a leisurely level? Maybe if I did drink a small glass of wine each evening I wouldn’t be wound so tight. Maybe if I made it a point to spend time laughing with girlfriends instead of pouring myself into my classes I would remember how it feels to loosen up. Maybe if I just went and got a tattoo, I could say to myself that I hadn’t forgotten the rebel inside of me.

There were a few other justifications, as well, for getting the tattoo.

1. It was a symbolic outward representation of the disease I was fighting.

2. It was a daily reminder that I needed to live life fully because we never know what is going to be thrown in our path.

3. It was my acceptance into the club–the one I had been fighting against for months. My VIP stamp of sorts that bound me to other women that had gone before me and would come after me.

4. It was going to be in a place that would be out of sight when my hair grew back so it wouldn’t be a nuisance should I ever be interviewed for something that might affect future endeavors.

5. The place I was going to put it–ahhh–the nape of the neck–during chemo–while I was bald or my hair was very short–it would serve as a sort of spiteful gesture to those that would look at me and question or whisper behind my back why I looked the way I did. Yes, this one is completely childish, but it also gives me the biggest laugh. It was a fact–I was going to lose my hair–something I was fiendishly upset about. The kicker–I would lose it right at the start of this summer’s pool season. I had counted up the days on the calendar. I had circled the day the pool opened. It was always circled each year–my family lives for that day. The thought that I was going to be a uniboob mom this summer was excruciating enough but to think I would also be bald was enough to leave me sobbing for days on end. I pictured in my mind people at the pool looking at me from the front and averting their eyes, or staring disgustingly at me. I pictured them pointing and whispering to their friends to look at me.

I also pictured turning around so they could see a large pink ribbon tattooed to the back of my neck and without having to turn around to see their expressions, I could see their faces melt into sorrow and then they would feel bad for pointing and staring or laughing at me. They would get it. Instant guilt trip. I win. 🙂 My childish mind had come up with the perfect solution to combat what was about to be my toughest summer on record and I loved the idea!

6. I knew that things were aligned perfectly for me to get the tattoo on that day. In two days, I would be sitting in my new dentist’s chair as he put me under for my root canal and to also fix the 5 cavities. I knew I would go home from that with a lot of antibiotics and so if the tattoo should become infected over the course of 48 hours, I would have enough penicillin to help put that back into submission. I also knew the antibiotics would help everything heal faster and so–if ever there was a time to get a tattoo–today was the day.

7. Most importantly, my chemo was going to start that upcoming Thursday. In 5 days I would be sitting in a chair while poison was being infused throughout my body. I knew my oncologist would not allow me to have a tattoo after I started treatment. My white cells would be shot from the drugs and if I developed an infection from the tattoo, then I would be in big trouble. So, it was now or never.

8. Last, but not least, I had been told that if I would ever consider a reconstruction, the new boob would have the areola tattooed on. That’s how they do it. Wow. I never knew that. I decided I certainly didn’t want my first tattoo to be that of a nipple!

When it was time to go back to my room with Jesse, I gave my hubby the camera and told him to take a ton of pictures. I wanted to remember this rite of passage. I never wanted to forget this moment in my life. I felt like it was a very visual way of me “owning it” and that it was also a way of me being able to move forward. Jesse’s appearance complete with tattoes and body piercings didn’t scare me. I was a bartender for 15 years and I was able to comfortably joke around with him. I think that surprised him from the woman he probably mistook for being conservative and sheltered.

We talked about the ribbon itself. I told him I didn’t want it to look perfect. I didn’t want it to have clean lines or neatly trimmed edges. I wanted it to look “Torn and Tattered”, “Worn and Weary”, and I also wanted it to look like a “Work in Progress”–because that’s exactly how I felt. I told him, “I’m a Work in Progress” also and I hoped someday in the future, when I truly feel in my heart that I have beaten this cancer that I would come back and write the word “Survivor” underneath the ribbon. Jesse looked at me and said, “Awesome”.

He shaved the back of my neck, placed the transfer on it, and gave me a mirror to check it out. I was so excited. He showed me where to sit and he went to work. With my head bent forward over a cushion I joked with him about life while Jeff captured it all on film. I listened to the buzzing of his tool and could feel the oddest sensations–some of which were slightly painful, but tolerable. I could visualize how he was outlining the ribbon and where he was filling it in. I could feel him going over certain areas repeatedly for extra shading. I could feel him trail off the ends of my ribbon to make them look frayed. It was so meditative for me and I won’t lie–I was so glad I took those Vicadin beforehand!

I knew we were getting to the end and I was glad because I was beginning to grit my teeth each time he rounded over the top of the ribbon. I was also making a low, gutteral sound each time the vibrating needle came close to the base of my skull. You know what it feels like if you put a massager on the top of your head? That’s what it felt like in a weird way only with pain involved. The vibrations from his needle would come up the back of my skull and travel all the way across the top. I couldn’t help but think what it must feel like for some people who get their whole skull tattooed–wait–I don’t want to know about that–I was ready to be done. And just like that–we were. I stood up and looked at it in the mirror. I couldn’t believe it. Jeff came and told me, “Good Job” and gave me a quick kiss. I was in awe. I loved it. I absolutely loved it. It was a part of me now. There was no escaping it. I was branded for life.

A Work In Progress

A Work In Progress

There are new pics over in Flickr Photos. I spent way too long trying to get them in chronological order–it just wouldn’t work. They are going from last to first?? Click on more pictures and you’ll see the album sitting to the right–that is in order. I am letting go of it so I can move forward. Enjoy.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Melissa Akali
    Sep 11, 2009 @ 13:27:40

    Chris,

    I am so amazed how strong you are!! I am laughing and crying all at the same time! You are such a wonderful writer!

    ~Mel

    Reply

    • Christina Heald
      Sep 11, 2009 @ 13:39:04

      OMG–Melissa–I miss you!!! I am so glad to pick up where we left off! Thanks for the comment–I just love getting them! I can hear your laughter now…and I’m so glad I got to see your beautiful smile again!

      Reply

  2. kelsomom
    Sep 11, 2009 @ 21:13:59

    It’s incredible! BTW, once again you are braver than me 😀

    Reply

    • Christina Heald
      Sep 11, 2009 @ 21:27:55

      I so don’t consider myself brave at all! Pissed, yes. Brave, no, but on that night–I will admit–I was fiercely determined to prove something. It was my way of screaming, “Go to Hell, Cancer–I HATE YOU!” I’ve been meaning to write you. I watched your video and was deeply touched. I am working on something similar and if I ever get it done, I’ll be sure to share mine with you. Thank you for sharing that with me. I feel honored to be one of the privileged.

      Reply

  3. Marilyn
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 07:19:16

    It’s a beautiful tattoo…I only have one as well. It is very personal to me as well. Your’s will be a reminder of what you have overcome…as mine is as well.

    Reply

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Started Tracking on 12-1-09

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