I have a tattoo on my ankle that I’ve had since I was nineteen. It was one of those impulsive things I did because I was young and stupid. It’s not that I don’t like tattoos, it’s just that this particular tattoo had no meaning to me. I just did it to have one. It would make sense to have it removed. And yet, I never did anything about it.
The biggest reason I never moved forward on removing it hadn’t dawned on me until this past summer.
I never thought I would live this long.
If you think you’re going to die young, why bother with the expense and pain of having a tattoo removed. Just learn to live with it and focus on living.
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was in third grade. She died the spring of my seventh grade year. She was forty-two years old.
I have memories of chemo appointments, visiting her in the hospital and watching her decline. I don’t remember too many people asking me how school was, what book I was reading or what I was watching on MTV. Instead, they would ask how my, “poor mother was doing,” or “how my dad was holding up.” While girls my age were fighting with their mothers over typical teenage issues, I wished I had a mother to fight with.
When you are a middle schooler whose mom is dying in a hospice bed in your living room, the last thing you want is to be different. You’d much rather watch TV in that room (like any other teen) than watch her take her last breath.
As I grew into adulthood I wanted nothing more than to move on, but the past has a way of working its way into your life whether you want it to or not. At every annual check-up, my doctor would take one look at my medical history and say, “Oh, I see that your mom died of breast cancer when she was young. We’re going to have to keep an eye on you.” I have had countless mammograms, MRIs, a biopsy and even a genetic test. Over time, a part of me came to believe that it wasn’t a matter of IF I would get breast cancer, but when.
Consciously or unconsciously as a result of my childhood and reminders from the medical community, I have lived my life as if I would die young. And as I get older and look back on my life so far, this hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing.
I am one of those people who focus on the good in life because I’ve seen it really, really bad and I prefer to enjoy those moments when life is good. You won’t hear me complain about getting older either (because, you know, the alternative is being dead).
I don’t let fear get in the way of my dreams. I’d rather go for it than wonder about what ifs or what could have been. Recently I traveled across the globe to adopt a little boy from China because my husband and I believed we were meant to. When I had doubters in my midst they did not deter me because I have resolve. Resolve comes from being independent and growing up without a mother.
While my life has had tragedy and pain, while I would not want my children to go through what I went through, I am who I am because of my past. I live life in a way that I hope honors her. I am a mother in a way that I wouldn’t be had I grown up differently. While I certainly would have benefited from her quiet counsel, a motherly touch during my teen years and a shoulder to cry on, I can’t change the past.
Interestingly enough, because my mom was diagnosed in her thirties, the chances of me getting the kind of cancer she had is going down year by year. I still have my annual mammograms (along with any other woman over forty) but there is less concern from my doctor as I age (yes, getting older is a GOOD thing).
This past summer I celebrated my 42nd birthday, and as I began to ponder how I would live my life longer than my own mother had, I had a radical realization:
I just might live until I’m eighty.
Well if that is the case, I’m not living with this tattoo any longer. And maybe I’ll get a few more that have some meaning to them this time. It’s going to take a while, but that’s okay, I’m finally beginning to realize that I may just have the time.