I never thought of myself as a tattoo guy. The closest I’ve come is a sunburn on my back that looked a little like Italy. If you squinted.
But last week, I got a tattoo, because of cancer. My tattoo isn’t something inspirational, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. It is not rebellious, like the slogan “F–k cancer” (inspired by Betty Crockers’ infamous “F–k Pillsbury” ads from the 1950s.
My tattoo is…. four dots. They are small, spread across my torso. You have to squint to see them.
I would like to say they represent the four seasons of life, the four winds or the four directions we can travel. In fact, they represent four small spots on my body. Pretty deep, right?
Was this the worst-ever episode of Ink Master?
No. I am about to begin a month of stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) to remove tumours on my spine. The tightly focused beam of radiation must hit its target and nothing else, over the course of four weekly sessions. The radiation therapists use the dots as reference points, to place me in the exact same position each time.
So I went to hospital to get my dots. I thought they would use a permanent marker. Then one of the therapists mentioned needles. “Does this work like a tattoo,” I asked. “It is a tattoo,” she replied. Then she poked me in the ribs. For those who have never been tattooed, let me confirm that, yes, it does hurt. And it doesn’t get any less painful by the fourth dot. Luckily, I’m rugged.
I like my tattoo, but I don’t think I’ll get another. I wouldn’t want to clutter my body with, say, a fifth dot.
I like to stand in front of the mirror, shirtless. And that was before I got the tattoo. Now, I spend long minutes staring at my body art, wondering if it makes me look tougher.
I look forward to hitting the beach this summer. I can picture the jealous reactions from people standing really, really close to me.
“What are those?” they will ask. “Freckles?”
No, I will reply.
“Skin tags then?”
No, not skin tags.
“Are they moles? They look suspicious. You should get them checked out. You wouldn’t want to get cancer.”