man with tattoos flexing his muscles

You Are a Survivor

If you have been diagnosed with bladder cancer and you are reading this, you are a survivor. This is an important milestone. Find a way to celebrate and embrace your accomplishment.

My cancer survivorship tattoo

My daughter was 14 or 15 when I was diagnosed. She was and is a wonderful artist, and I asked her to draw me a “survivor” tattoo. She drew me the cartoon Roadrunner with a road sign that read “Cancer survivor 2006”. On the bottom of the sign, she added her initials. Since we had never been huge cartoon fans, I was curious. I asked, “Why Roadrunner?” Her answer brought me to tears. She looked me in the eyes and told me, “Nothing kills the Roadrunner either!” I took the drawing, drove two hours to a guy I knew, and handed him the drawing. He looked it over and offered to clean up the art. I assured him I wanted it exactly as drawn, and it adorns my right forearm, wrist to elbow.

Remembering the six-month scopes

My right elbow is covered with a “6”. The “6” is ¾ of an inch wide and all black. The artist drew it with a fine Sharpie, and I said, “Bigger.” He went over it a couple of times and I said, “BIGGER”. He traced it with one of those super-wide markers and I said, “Right!” To this day, it is the tat I get the most questions about. I explain that for years, I had to get scoped every six months, and this reminds me to be faithful.

The right calf got Wylie Coyote blowing up the word “cancer” with that box with the push-down handle he tries to kill Roadrunner with, and on the left tricep, there is a website, The lady that started it had shirts made up, and I wanted to show the unwavering support and love I have for everything she has done for so many, myself included, so I inked it. I got teased for sucking up.

Surviving cancer should be celebrated

Finally, after ten years of survivorship, I had “Survivor” tattooed on the right side of my neck. For the record, I am not suggesting anyone gets tattooed. I also understand that this is not everyone’s cup of tea. All personal feelings about body art aside, my goal is to suggest that cancer is a monumental happening in anyone’s life, and surviving it is an even more monumental accomplishment that should be celebrated and commemorated.

We are a family

We are a tribe, a family, an exclusive group of bada$$ery. A woman named Annette came to me and said, “Pastor, I have breast cancer.” I offered to shave my head with her. My wife made her hats out of special yarn. We prayed and cried and screamed. She went through treatment, and she was in remission, and then it came back and we prayed and we cried and we screamed really, really loud. We talked about survivor tattoos. One Sunday morning as service was closing, she raised her hand. I asked her, “Yes, Nette?” She said, “Pastor, I won’t be in church next Sunday.” When I inquired as to the reason for her absence, she smiled and said, “Crew is in concert, and I’m gonna be wrecked.” It was the last time she got to see Motley Crew in concert. It was a commemoration of her survivorship.

Months later, I stood in her front room. She lay in her hospital bed. She was frail and weak and struggling for her breaths. She was holding her husband’s hand as her oldest daughter said, “I do,” and I pronounced her wed. Annette hugged me and thanked me for everything. I cried.

At her funeral, I read the eulogy. When I announced her daughters and son-in-law, I smiled. When I read that she loved live music, I remembered the laughs we had about her missing church, and I stopped for several moments until I could regain my composure.

This is survivorship

This is survivorship. It is tattoos and tears and laughter and celebrations. Surviving means celebrating small things that you might have overlooked or taken for granted when you thought you had forever. Some of my greatest memories are post-diagnosis. There is no wrong way to do survival. Grab every breath and every experience, and ring them for every drop of life they contain.

“Per Ardua Momento Mori.” “Through difficulties remember you are mortal.” Celebrate every breath.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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