23 March 2015

Inking over

A year ago today I stared out at a sunset so painfully beautiful that I wept to watch it, my heart overflowing with the delight at being alive and the fear of the chemo which would begin in the morning. My body was coiled and taut, ready for the assault to begin. My curls were still long and soft around my neck. I had no idea what was going to happen next. In the morning I got up, went to the hospital, laid down on the bed, and began the process I hoped would help save my life.

Two weeks ago I found myself in a hospital bed in a very different setting. Melissa and Michael were there at the foot of the bed, as they had been during chemo. And there was a man with a needle beside me. But everything else was different. This was Kakapo Ink, and Roo, my gentle and kind tattoo artist, was about to make his mark.

There was a way these two experiences were eerily similar. I laid back for the nearly three hours of sometimes mild and sometimes biting pain in both cases, both making me a little light headed, a little dizzy.  Both times Michael held my hand, and Melissa cracked jokes from the foot of the bed. This time, though, I was choosing it.

In February I had gone to Kakapo Ink  (a new kind of tattoo parlour devoted to tattoo newbies like me—bright and open and lovely) and had met Roo and Katy who would design this piece for me. With their help, I described what I wanted: a tattoo that would help me reclaim this blank fake breast of mine, something beautiful and delicate that would make me smile rather than frown each time I saw it. Something that symbolized new life and love and hope rather than being a constant symbol of the cancer and loss and fear I have lived with this past year.

Over the course of a month or so, they sent me designs, and I printed them out and showed them around and thought about them hard and sent back feedback and waited for the next design. And then suddenly a few weeks ago, I opened my email and smiled. Yes, that was a design I’d like to wear forever. I’d like that to be a part of my body. (I'm including the picture Katy drew though we had to make some modifications of it once we got it on my three dimensional body--but you can see how pretty it is.)

Now it is.

I talk with my clients sometimes about writing their own story, about picking up the pen and making their own choices. I had never understood this part of the tattoo craze (to be honest, I’ve never understood any part of the tattoo craze) and I had never thought I would come up with a reason to indelibly write on my own body. But every time I catch a glimpse of me in the mirror now, I have a totally different sense of me. I used to shy away from my reflection, seeing myself as scarred, marred, damaged. Now I catch a glimpse and stop and stare. Wow, that’s beautiful I think, again and again. That’s me. That’s not me written by cancer, but me writing over cancer. That’s not me partial and broken but me taking the open space of a vacant lot and cultivating beauty.

This is a beginning of a new chapter for me. I need a hair cut. My book is out (Here's a picture of Keith and me at our book launch and you can order your own copy here Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders). We have a new house. Naomi and I are going to visit universities next month. I have literally inked over the scars of last year with new leaves of possibilities. I wonder what will flower next.

(And in a little coda, two more pieces. First, this from the NYT about life after cancer treatment . A little chilling. And this from Mark’s poetry box, Day 3)

After the Diagnosis
Christian Wiman

No remembering now
When the apple sapling was blown
Almost out of the ground.
No telling how,
With all the other trees around,
It alone was struck.
It must have been luck,
He thought for years, so close
To the house it grew.
It must have been night.
Change is a thing one sleeps through
When young, and he was young.
If there was a weakness in the earth,
A give he went down on his knees
To find and feel the limits of,
There is no longer.
If there was one random blow from above
The way he’s come to know
From years in this place,
The roots were stronger.
Whatever the case,
He has watched this tree survive
Wind ripping at his roof for nights
On end, heats and blights
That left little else alive.
No remembering now…
A day’s changes mean all to him
And all days come down
To one clear pane
Through which he sees
Among all the other trees
This leaning, clenched, unyielding one
That seems cast
In the form of a blast
That would have killed it,
As if something at the heart of things,
And with the heart of things,
Had willed it.

1 comment:

Diana Manks said...

You know Jennifer I think we have no idea of what you have endured during 2014 - to see you rising into 2015 so strong - with a beautiful healthy breast that you have claimed as all yours, love Diana