Tattoos and Tumors

My mom drove down to LA today from where I grew up in the Central Valley to get a tattoo. On her chest. My ultra conservative, Fox News watching mother, who was deeply offended by my first tattoo (of a small lavender lily) sat topless in a tattoo parlor today. But she didn’t wait until she was in her late 60’s to get a tattoo of a butterfly or a flower or something with wings trying to escape from an Ed Hardy shirt. No. Today’s tattoo was the final step in her battle with breast cancer. After a mastectomy, she opted for reconstruction and the tattoo was the last touch.

But just so you fully understand Christine’s distaste for tattoos, when she saw my most recent piece she said “you better hope that washes off.” To be clear… The tattoo features the cancer ribbon and I designed it shortly after her last surgery and my own series of cancer free scans. It’s a tribute to our battle and triumph over cancer. And she hates it. So for those keeping score at home… I went from being an on air reporter at my mother’s favorite news network to being unemployed, tatted up (one in the same if you ask Christine) and even less likely to produce a grandchild since I’m fleeing the country for a year. But I’ve never shown my boobs at a tattoo parlor, so I win.

***Now that I have a blog, I decided to repost something I wrote last year while I was sitting in the waiting room during my mom’s final surgery. Originally, I just shared it with friends and family but I’ve been urged to make it public in hopes that it provides encouragement or inspiration.***

Cancer. The word conjures up thoughts and images you wish you could push out of your mind. So far out of your consciousness that it no longer has power. The power to terrify you, change you, even kill you. Cancer is now just a word. There’s still no cure and it’s just as deadly, but my relationship with that asshole is over.

Sitting in the waiting room at Stanford Cancer Center, it has occurred to me that it really IS over. After a lumpectomy, a mastectomy, reconstruction and several surgeries in between… my mother will be released from cancer’s grip. So many times I’ve sat in this room…waiting, wondering, hoping. The uncertainty of it all made painfully clear thanks to her need to walk me through all of the “in case I die” protocols the night before each surgery. Referencing that nondescript file cabinet in the garage that contains everything I need and nothing I want. My mother pulling out files and pointing at numbers that are meant to sum up her life… “This is the life insurance.” She says nonchalantly.  “This is the Trust for the houses.” She references another dusty file cabinet as if it’s a pile of laundry or some other mundane household item. Not the metal coffin that solidifies her immortality.”

In that other cabinet is everything Dad will need. I need you to handle all of this. You know that, don’t you? Breenie, are you listening to me?” Every time I just stare blankly at those cold gray file cabinets and nod.  It’s that, or run away screaming when she gives me that look. That “here we go again” look. The one she gives me when she knows I might be motherless the following day. The one that says “I’m sorry” and “get your shit together” at the same time. If she did die on the table, I think she would be pissed if I shed even one tear before getting the estate in order.

As I sit here among patients and families in various stages of treatment and recovery, I wonder if they’re prepared, if they also look incredulously at file cabinets and are just trying to be strong for their families. One phone call away from a total meltdown. I’m lucky that call never came. And my mother considers herself lucky it never came for her either. Over a year ago the prognosis was much different for both of us. Cancer had a suffocating hold on my family. In the midst of dealing with my own shocking and overwhelming cancer diagnosis and treatment, my mother’s cancer came back. I joked that instances of cancer should be like babies in China, one per family. Unfortunately the universe didn’t comply, so as Christine was going back for testing and there was talk of a mastectomy, I was finishing up my last round of treatment, hoping it would stick this time.

Now back here in the waiting room, the only call left to get is the one from the nurse’s station saying my mom is ready to go home. Where she has recovered from countless surgeries and made the garage my enemy. But now, just like the word cancer, the garage also has no power.

A couple weeks ago I got my official letter of remission, but until today it didn’t feel real. I hadn’t let myself believe that things might be good again. The battles are over and it’s possible that the shitstorm has come to an end. To be honest, Christine got beat with the better end of the Cancer stick.

I’m still dealing with uneven patchy hair regrowth and hiding steroid weight gain with way too obvious crop jobs on FB while my mom walks away with a new pair of perky boobs. Which brings me back to the original point of this rant. Christine wins. Cancer loses.


*** Again, that was written last year, and while I have no idea what the future holds for me or my mother, I am going to live my life tempting fate at every chance. Today I sold my car and I am officially homeless in a couple weeks. I haven’t purchased gold hoop earrings yet, but I think it’s safe to say I am officially a Gypsy.***

We sang like no one was listening, and thank God, no one was.

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