[cancer|photos] Owning the pain through tattoos

Yesterday I went over to Sea Tramp Tattoo here in SE Portland and marked my cancer experience permanently on my body in symbols of my own choosing. This is to contrast with the surgical traces across my abdomen and chest. [info]kenscholes came with, as did [info]mlerules. Being who we are, we brought cameras.


The inside of the shop

Tattoo artist Eric S. Quale was very patient with my desires and worked with me on properly sizing my provided art. I think he was amused by the intent of what I was doing, as well as by the general misbehavior of me and my friends.

Eric clipping art from my printouts

Me and Ken acting like we usually do

The art itself is intended to symbolize my experiences thus far. I wanted three zodiacal cancer signs, one for each surgery to date, and a biohazard symbol for my one chemo so far. (Yes, I know ‘biohazard’ is a tattoo often worn by AIDS patients, but when I’m on chemo I am a literal biohazard in the technical sense. If someone really needs to know, I’ll explain the difference.)

The art

I wanted them done the way fighter pilots put kills on the noses of their aircraft, to symbolize the dogfights I’ve been in so far.

Of course, I had to sign The Papers.

Sign the papers, old man!

Then we got down to business.

Eric with tattoo gun
Eric with the tattoo gun

Yep. It hurts. Not a lot of hurt, just a little sting. A little sting over and over and over. After the past few years, I’ve become kind of an expert at needles, though.

Take a good look at my face

Here, too

And the result…

My left wrist

Three surgeries and a chemo. Next year I’ll add one more of each, to mark this year’s medical adventures. Because this cancer does not own me. I own it.

As a bonus, because we’re us, Ken recorded a short video interview with me. The sound is crappy, and I’m trying to Tweet some of the tattoo process so I’m a little distracted, but it’s still fairly amusing, methinks.

As usual, more at the Flickr set.

Photos and video © 2011, Ken Scholes and Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

Creative Commons License

This work by Ken Scholes and Joseph E. Lake, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

13 thoughts on “[cancer|photos] Owning the pain through tattoos

  1. Drax says:

    Awesome. Post of the week!

  2. Alexis says:

    Nice shirt!

  3. Donnie says:

    Why is the middle tattoo upside down?

  4. Leon J West says:

    Awesome stuff, Jay. Way to make cancer your bitch.

    Also, I’m pretty sure my wife got her tattoo at Seatramp 22 years ago.

  5. Barb Winter says:

    Go, Jay!
    I just got one designed by artist firend Jeff Fennell to make my reconstructed breast into a work of art. Because I am that sure that I own the cancer, and it’s not coming back!
    Doing so was a real confort to my sons. what does your lovely child think??

    1. Jay says:

      She is being very supportive. So far she has not commented on the ink.

  6. So, after that experience, you’re ready for another novel involving hideously painful rituals in a vaguely 17th-century Indoeuropean setting, right?

    1. Jay says:

      Those flowers are a real trial…

  7. Those wussy little needles? After hearing about your stylist, I was expecting your tattoo artist to whip out a halberd or a bardiche.

    1. Jay says:

      I thought about doing it old school, with a bone needle, lamp black and a bunch of whisky, but who has the time?

  8. Vixy says:

    When you tweeted the photo I went “Hey! He’s the same sign as me! …oh wait.”

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