In August of this year I celebrated 3 years since my cancer journey “ended” … surgically. But, anyone who has ever had a cancer diagnosis, or loved someone through a cancer journey, knows that it never really ends.
I’ve written here about the impact of the experience on my daily thought life, the way I approach illness in general, relationships, and more. But there’s one thing that I haven’t written about.
The magic of it all.
Despite feeling weak, fearful and out of control at the start of the journey, when I came out on the other side I also felt a bit like a magician who pulled off the biggest trick in the world, surviving against an unknown beast that played by no rules.
My cancer, a type of sarcoma, was so rare that the foundation emblem was a unicorn. A creature that even my doctors didn’t fully understand or know how to keep from visiting me again. Not the alluring and beautiful creature of fantasy, but a dark horse, piercing flesh with its horn and leaving scars.
At first that was the mentality. My cancer was a rare elusive invader that needed to be dealt with and then barred from the kingdom of my body forever. But, that perspective didn’t last long because living on the defense, constantly paranoid about a mystical enemy lurking in the background is not a sustainable way to live. In fact, I refused to live that way. So I had to flip the script and change the story.
Maybe my unicorn wasn’t meant to live in me. But, perhaps it was less trying to destroy me and more just growing in the space it had, leaving devastation by accident instead of with malicious intent. Maybe it was beautiful in a way because it was so different. So unknown.
Perhaps my medical team corralled it just in time before it breached my skull and could not be stopped. So, now that it’s gone I can look back at the scars and have learned something. To listen to my body. To advocate for myself with doctors. To pay attention before another like it is able to do the same kind of damage, without knowing it shouldn’t be there.
Maybe, just maybe, I was also a unicorn in it all. Choosing to see the positive and laugh through the trial of disease, determined to revel in the magic of survival rather than resent the experience.
For the last three years I’d been thinking of a way to capture cancer in a memorial for myself. A kind of respectful remembrance. Something to see each day that would remind me of the unicorn I conquered and the unicorn that I am.
So, I got a tattoo.
A new friend and fellow advocate in the cancer community, Louisa Kleinert, owner of Bluebird Ink Beautique took an idea I found and translated it into a forever piece of wearable art. I’ve had it for a few weeks now and it’s like it was always supposed to be there. Like the art was already under my skin waiting for life’s timing to let it surface.
As odd as it may sound to say, I am grateful for cancer. It gave me far more than it took and I hope to always remain grateful for the unicorn perspective. Thanks to Louisa, I will carry a constant reminder with me; a simple line drawn figure, with cancer ribbons in her mane.