I am a cancer survivor. In August 2008 I was diagnosed with Head and Neck cancer, and an incredible and grueling journey began. A journey that included surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, depression, fatigue, hopelessness, anger, despair, and a forced view of my mortality.
It was also a journey of hope, love, compassion, understanding, and renewed vigor for life. When death comes knocking at your door you learn how precious life is. Each and every day becomes so much more than you expect. You see love in the eyes of those who care for you in a way you never noticed before. Strangers, for no reason other than you need help, reach out and touch your life. Life becomes sweeter, and the hope for tomorrow becomes stronger than ever.
I realized this when I was battling my cancer. I told myself that when I emerged from my cancer I would be reborn as a new man. Like the mythological phoenix, I would arise from the diseased ashes of my former life a new and vibrant human being; a man ready to tackle life, with a new appreciation of my life an everything in it.
For those of you who don’t know what the phoenix is, here is the definition from Dictionary.com:
I blogged in March of 2009 that I wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate my survivorship. I wanted to get a phoenix. But it never happened. I was always nervous that my 6-month scans would show more cancer. And so I waited.
Until the beginning of July, 2011. Almost three years since diagnoses – I finally admitted to myself that I was well into my survivorship and it was OK to celebrate it. Most cancer survivors know what I mean when I say I was afraid to celebrate my survivorship lest I find out I was still riddled with cancer.
Last month, I went to Cast Iron Tattoos and got my new tattoo. My phoenix, on my left shoulder, staring at the scar on my neck, my always-visible reminder of my cancer and survivorship. I agonized for months of the exact design I wanted and I ended up with this:
I had to be careful. A number of the phoenix tattoos I found looked suspiciously like the Nazi eagle. Others looked too effeminate. And some were overly tribal. Anyway, Vinnie at Cast Iron Tattoos took great care of me and my new tattoo came out great.
I HAVE emerged from the ashes reborn. I am a cancer survivor and I am proud of it. I celebrate being cancer-free and my tattoo is a part of that celebration. Maybe one day I’ll battle cancer again and, if I do, I will emerge again, and earn a new phoenix as a result.