The Tattoo I Got Before Beginning Treatment for Adrenal Cancer


Adrenal cancer is one of those orphan cancers that takes you by surprise when it returns, and even still when it doesn’t. I found out a few weeks ago that my disease had returned again, and needless to say, I am slightly bummed. I start an immunotherapy drug on Wednesday, and the hope is that it will curb it for longer than just the two months it has been staying away. The dream, however, is that it will be a cure! My thoughts, as they do in many moments throughout the day, flew to my brother G when I heard the news and I wished, not for the first time, that he were sitting with me in that cold clinic room.

Before my baby brother died, he described to me in detail the type of tattoo I should get for him. I was sitting next to him in the big blue comfy chair while he was in his hospital bed, lucid and at peace. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “G, what symbol should I put on my wrist for you?”

G (without any hesitation but with a slight smile): “An infinity sign.”

Me: “Why is that?”

G (smiling even bigger): “Because I am always thinking the same thing.”

Me: “Yeah? Like what?”

G: “Like, ‘what the hell is going on??’”

Me: “What else do you think about?”

G remained silent for a moment, and turned his head towards the window. After a few seconds, he said, “…but you should put stars inside of each side.” He smiled really big after this and looked me in the eye.

Me: “Why is that?”

G: “Because they are infinite. They never die.”

I promised him I would do as he asked. The conversation ended after that as his attention turned elsewhere (to the cows that lived in the field across from our apartment), and I got choked up because of his answer. He was lucid for that moment, as he was for so many others, and I am so thankful for that moment and those wishes.

I got my tattoo today, with some modifications (I am sorry, G! But I know that you forgive me!), just in time to start treatment next week. It is an experimental immunotherapy, given via infusion over 30 minutes once every three weeks, and should not change my life in too many ways (except to hopefully give me a cure, knock on wood!)

I suppose that I am at a junction in my life. Completely in love with a girl who makes my heart smile, in the middle of graduate school and finally healthy enough to ski and adventure and play violin for several hours during some days and drive like hell to get through a blizzard to work the next morning.

However, there is also the other hidden part. Adrenal cancer is a type of cancer that is not visible to a person walking down the street giving me elevator eyes. I still have my hair, don’t use a wheelchair and am not bedbound, and am still eating (ish). The only way it is possible to tell is if you know me well and can notice the days when the color has fallen from my face because of pain, you have seen the shape of my body change from when they removed organ after organ over the past few years and from many surgeries (and yes, I am a full supporter of just installing a clothing-grade zipper in my abdomen so as to make it easier on both the surgeon and patient) and you can tell I am acting differently when my endocrine system starts to crash and I begin to slur or become incredibly confused.

I think the purpose of this post is two-fold: to point out that not everything is visible to the eye, and I am thankful for that. However, as I embark upon this next step in treatment, continue along this process of school to someday help people in the same ways that my family has been helped over the past 14 years and continue to try and open my heart to the world around me, I will have this little token tattoo to remind me that life is fleeting and worth every moment.

No matter the issue, whether you deem it small or large, regarding health or sanity, even love or loss, life is worth living. Baby G taught me to live every day to its fullest, even if that means napping for most of it, because that will make the following day even better. And maybe, just maybe, I can stop judging myself for what I can’t do, and start thanking my body for the things I can do.

I look at the stars a lot more than I used to. Maybe in a few years I will invest in a telescope. After all, although stars change just like everything else, some part of them are always there, watching out for us from above.

Immunotherapy – with your help, I can beat this. In another 50 years, I will still have my tattoo, and hopefully, I will still be skiing.

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Thinkstock photo via chaluk.

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