I have never been a tattoo guy. I have been asked a lot if I ever wanted one. The answer was always the same, “No, not really.” I always told people If I got one, I would wake up the next morning, hate it, and want it changed. However, I always added that I would only get a tattoo if something monumental happened in my life. And then my bride got cancer.
From the very beginning, I knew I was going to get a tattoo. I also knew that some in my life would not understand. I wrestled with this thought over the past few month. There are some people I know who have always spoken of tattoos in a very negative way. I have heard sermons and listened to individuals ramble on about how terrible they were. I have never felt that way. I have never bought into any of the arguments. So, the decision to go get ink was not hard.
For anyone who wants to know my rationale, here it is. My wife’s body has been forever scarred. She will never be the same. I decided, if she was going to be marked by cancer, I would be marked as well. She has also gone through terrible amounts of pain and I wanted to join her in a small way by experiencing some pain myself. Mine would never amount to what she has experienced, but at least it would be a small gesture.
Over the past few months, I gave a lot of thought to what and where I would get tattooed. A lot of people figured I would put something religious on my skin. I decided against that. I wanted something that I could use to tell our story. I wanted something that symbolized our journey. At first, I considered doing a small bullet. This was because our surgeon told us the chemo we would be given would act like a silver bullet. At one point I considered something werewolf like in honor of Ole Scruffy, but I decided that was not a good idea. I finally came to the conclusion I wanted a phoenix. I have always been enamored with the mythology behind it, and I figured it would make a really cool tattoo. I also wanted it in a tribal style.
Then came the discussion of where. I joked off and on about putting it on my hind quarters. A nice phoenix right above my crack would make for great conversation at the beach. Seriously, that was a joke. The location actually wasn’t difficult. I wanted it on my right side, because that was the side Ole Scruffy called home, and I wanted it on my lower arm. I didn’t want to hide it. I wanted it to be visible.
So, my plan has always been to get a tattoo soon after the cancer was removed from my wife’s body. I have been talking with friends of mine who have them for months. Being new to all of this, I wanted to know the best place to get one. After consulting with a few people, examining the artwork they got, I decided to go to a shop near my house and let an artist named Megan have the honor.
When I walked into the shop to get a consultation I felt a bit weird. No, I wasn’t feeling guilty, I just felt out of place. If you know me, I don’t look like a tattoo guy and have no experience with how to even get one. However awkward I may have felt, Megan did a great job of making me feel comfortable.
Megan is quite the cool lady. When I met her she had dark hair with blue streaks all throughout. I explained to her what I wanted, but also told her I wanted her to design it. I didn’t want a tattoo off a wall. I wanted something unique. I wanted something personal. Megan took my ideas, we exchanged a few emails about design, and then confirmed the date.
The night I left to get my tattoo my wife gave me some encouraging words. She told me, “Make sure you don’t cry.” Her confidence in my pain management was very sweet. I know she was kidding, but as I left the house I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into. I honestly had no idea what it would feel like or if I would cry. I consider myself someone who takes physical pain pretty well, but as I entered the shop to get inked, I was second guessing my ability to be manly.
Megan and I discussed the final design for a bit. I agreed with her that the phoenix needed flames so people wouldn’t think it was just a random bird. I also loved what she did with my concept. I didn’t want a lot of color. I wanted the phoenix to be black with just a little bit of pink to symbolize my bride’s breast cancer. Megan came up with the idea to have one of the tale feathers swoop into the breast cancer awareness symbol. When I saw it, I knew I made the right choice for a tattoo artist.
Once we agreed on a final design, it was time to start the process. Megan had me sit on a table and lay my arm out. She placed a stencil of the design on my arm so we could agree on location. As she pulled away the paper that left an imprint of the phoenix on my arm, I suddenly got really excited. There, on my arm, was something I had imagined for months and it was magnificent.
Then came the actual process of tattooing. Megan told me she would do a practice line to see how I handled it. When she made the statement I almost laughed. I imagine freaking out over the pain and living the rest of my life with a black line on my arm symbolizing my frailty and weakness. That right there would have stripped me of what small amount of a man card I have left.
Megan asked if I was ready.
I told her I was.
As I listened to the sound of the needle and prepared to feel it penetrating my skin, I closed my eyes and saw Andrea laying in the recovery room. I remembered all those days we spent laying around watching movies as she recovered from chemo. I saw her face when she told me she had cancer. In that brief time and space, I whispered in my soul, “I love you Andrea.” Then the needle hit my arm.
Honestly, it wasn’t bad at all. It felt like getting an i.v. over and over again combined with some light sun burning. The process took about 3 hours. I spent the time talking with Megan and the other artists in the shop. Most of the time I didn’t even notice her tattooing me. In a small way, I now get why people become addicted to it. There is a bit of a rush during it.
When the process was complete I thanked Megan. I don’t think she will ever know how much she helped me. Getting a tattoo was a small way I could walk this journey with my wife. It was a way I could feel her pain. It allowed me a brief second to imagine how she has felt and join her in the struggle. The same way our stylist helped Andrea wrestle with losing her hair, Megan helped me cope with the pain and suffering we have experienced. For that small token of grace, I am thankful.
So now, I have a tattoo. It’s been a few weeks since it was done and it has healed nicely. There is a chance, because of how much black that was used, I will need to go back and get some touch ups. If I do, I look forward to seeing Megan again. If I don’t, I hope she knows what a gift she has given me. She played a small part in our journey and has given me something to help share our story. Cancer has now caused physical pain to both of us, we both have felt it’s intense flames, but like the phoenix will rise anew.