Never Say Never; A Permanent Reminder

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Jill Feldman

~for my entire family; past present and future  hope

Never say Never… Admit it; we have all declared at one time, in some way, “I will never…!”  I know I have. There are many things I said I would never do that have been refuted, but one thing I said I would never, ever do is get a tattoo. I didn’t judge people who had them, but they weren’t for me. Tattoos are a lifelong commitment and unlike bell-bottom pants and baggy sweaters, tattoos cannot simply be thrown in a giveaway pile and be forgotten about!

As we all know, life is all about change, and I’ve had some life-changing experiences that have led me to a change of heart about tattoos.  In fact, one of the things I didn’t like, the permanency of a tattoo, is what led me to getting one…actually, I got two tattoos ~ Go big or go home!

The first time I thought of getting a tattoo was five years ago, when I was diagnosed with lung cancer. I would casually mention it in conversation, but I wasn’t committed and didn’t even know what design I wanted to get. And then, not by choice, I got my first tattoos in May, 2013. They are boring, ugly, and not what I would choose – they are tattoo markings for the radiation I had on one of the cancers in my lungs!

I am ok with the radiation tattoos, the scars I have from surgery and the marks left on my skin from Tarceva (the targeted therapy drug used to fight my lung cancer) — I earned every one of them and wear them proudly, but they weren’t my choice. Lung cancer, indirectly, created them.  My defiant-self decided that the next marks on my body were going to be my choice; what I want and where I want. I was back to thinking about getting a tattoo.

Fast forward to last May. I was at LUNGevity’s Hope Summit in Washington DC where over 100 lung cancer survivors came together to learn, have fun, provide support and share hope. Hope is a word that I never used to associate with lung cancer because in my experience there was only false hope, or no hope at all. But as LUNGevity has grown and advancements in research have been benefitting patients more and more, I have started to believe that there is hope and I have started using the word more.

Hope Summit 2014 really opened my eyes and my mind to hope, and it came at the perfect time. I was finally in a good place accepting that my Stage I lung cancer had evolved into a Stage 4a diagnosis. I looked around the room in awe as I listened to survivors tell their stories, I watched the interaction among survivors and caregivers, I heard about the latest advancements in research, I felt the virtual (and often real) hugs and I embraced the support — I experienced hope for the first time. Hope had a whole new meaning to me.

Hope is a powerful force.  Hope means different things to different people at different points in their journey.  The hope I saw transpire in that room was real. It wasn’t about wishing for a miracle or dreaming of a cure. It was hope that lights the way during dark times. Hope that means being realistic but not giving up. Hope that means having faith and believing that nothing, even cancer, can defeat the human spirit. Hope that provides the strength to get up every morning and face each day. It may not sound like much, but after what we have all gone through, it is a lot – Hope is everything!

So, at Hope Summit I started thinking more seriously about getting a tattoo — a tattoo about hope. As long as I’m realistic, there is always hope, and I never wanted to forget that feeling. A tattoo that simply said hope, with the ‘e’ being the cancer ribbon, would be a permanent reminder, and a bold, positive response to the physical and emotional marks lung cancer has left on my body.

I also started thinking about a second tattoo — the tree of life. I wanted to incorporate my mom, dad and aunt (whom I lost to lung cancer) and Jason, Jack, Shae, Meg and Maya (my husband and kids) –  all of whom inspire me to fight every day. Like a family tree showing deep roots and branches that connect to me, with a symbol (a leaf) for each person, this tattoo would symbolize love and eternal life.tree-o-life

My kids are 17, 16, 14 and 11 so I thought about what their response would be (you would never approve of us getting a tattoo…) and the message I would be sending them. When I got the response I suspected, I simply said that they were right; I would not approve of them getting a tattoo. I told them that they are far too young to know what they would want forever or to understand the impact of a permanent decision.  I explained that at my age, with my life experiences, I know this is something I want for the rest of my life.

I got my tattoos two weeks ago. I went with some of my cousins and nieces, but my biggest supporter, who was by my side the whole time, was my 16-year old daughter Shae. I was nervous about the pain, but every time I brought it up Shae would remind me of the worst pain I have ever felt — having the chest tubes removed after my first lung cancer surgery. She also reminded me that lung cancer has caused me a lot more pain over the years and that is the exact reason I was getting the tattoos!

The hope tattoo on my inner left wrist  is my anchor; it reminds me that hope, faith and the love of my family and friends got me through those darkest moments and will do so again when I need strength and courage. I was going to get this tattoo in a place that could be easily covered, but doing so would have taken away its significance.  The tattoo is a statement that I believe in to my core. I want people to ask me about it so I can share my story and raise awareness about lung cancer. And for me personally, every morning when I wake up, throughout the day and every night before I go to bed I want to see that permanent reminder that there is always Hope!

The tree of life tattoo on my front hip is my rock, my strength. It represents the closest people to my heart, for whom I live for and fight for everyday.  It reminds me of where I came from, where I have been and how far I have come. It is especially comforting to know that my mom, dad and aunt are always with me.

I am still a little surprised that I actually got ‘inked’, but I don’t regret it one bit. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  I love my tattoos.  The stories and meanings behind them are connected deeply to my heart, so much so that I actually marked my body with them — something I thought I would never do. Never say never…

Copyright © behind-the-ink, Nancy Perlson