Invisible Tattoo

September 10th, 2015

Today I am due for my second round of chemo. Feel pretty good. Didn’t want to walk carrying my bag full of urine—my horrible urine purse—so I did 40 minutes on the bike trainer, took a shower, put lotion on and let it dry, saw the docs, and am now getting more chemo. Yesterday, I got the sweats and was a little tired, but I recovered.

I want to tell you about my henna tattoo. It’s about two weeks ago, and I have Anna and Amanda’s wedding to go to. It is my plan to be gorgeous. So I call someone in Carborro for a henna tattoo, and she asks me what I want.

I say a henna crown with roses, irises, and peonies. I also need a star, a rocket ship and a bee.

Rationale for Roses:

Several years ago, my mother-in-law, Rose, passed away. It was sudden and heartbreaking. She fell down the stairs while cleaning the chandelier. I loved Rose, and I know that she loved me. I know I was like a daughter to her. So I want roses in my tattoo. I feel her ghost sometimes, watching over me and Chris. I sometimes deeply feel her approval and her love.


My dad’s father died in World War II. He was a member of a bomber crew, and you only had to fly 35 missions to get sent home. He died on his 32nd mission and was shot down by a German fighter. This meant my grandmother had to figure out what to do with my 4-year-old father and the rest of her life. She moved from the Staman family farm, and she took peonies with her. She married again, and planted the peonies in the back yard of her new small house; they were her pride and joy. After she passed, my sister Laura and I asked the new tenants if we could dig up some of the peonies, and I have vivid memories of the two of us weeping into the dry soil, and carrying the peonies away in trash bags with dirt on our funeral clothes.


I didn’t know my mother’s parents very well. I knew they were kind, and that I am like Grandad, who everyone called Red. Red was a foreman at Davey Tree during the depression. They got paid on Saturdays, and by Friday, all the money was gone for the workers. He and his wife would throw pancake parties every Friday night so the crew could eat. My grandmother had a gold coin, and she wore it around her neck all through the depression, as a symbol that they were not truly poor.

My Grandad loved irises. He secretly planted irises in the fall in the middle of a marshy bog, in the middle of the woods, in the middle of nowhere. One day in the spring, he took my mother out there to see them. It was so beautiful that she cried. When she asked him why he did it in the middle of nowhere, he said, “It’s a gift, and a gift doesn’t have to be for anybody in particular. I’m glad you like it, though.”

And this is why I think I need irises, roses and peonies for my henna tattoo. I go to the little witch’s house; she is not really a witch, or course, but she could be. She lives in Carrboro, for one thing. I see a big black snake slithering up to her door. She is petite and wearing a red kimono or Indian dress or something that might be a smock. She spends a lot of time talking to me and finding out what I want. I cry a few times, and she acknowledges that it is hard to be sick. She spend two hours painting on my head.

When she is done, I feel like my ancestors are with me. I feel them surround me and protect me on my journey. I love it.

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Do you see the Rocket for Zachary Rocket in the below picture?

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See the Bee for Madeline Bee? The star for Chris, the rockstar?

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I feel beautiful too.

But in the morning, the day of the wedding, it looks like this. Almost all of it is gone.

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I am very sad about this, and this sadness is unexpected. The little witch offers to do it again for free, but I don’t want to. That was 4 hours of my life all in. I don’t ask for my money back, either, although I know I could. She spent her time on this too, and made something beautiful. Maybe the healing I got from feeling the support of my ancestors is all I needed. I need the acknowledgement that I want their help and support, that their past is entwined in my future. And I get to share the pictures and the stories with you.

I go to Anna and Amanda’s the wedding wearing a hat. The hat is too hot, and I eventually just take it off. All my climbing friends are there; Maddy, Zach and Chris are there; and we dance and dance and dance. The wedding is so full of love, Anna and Amanda could not be more adorable.  Maddy says it is the best day of her life. Everyone is everyone’s. We all have each other, and the empathy we are sharing is called joy.

I did not need for the tattoo to show. It was there.

Honey Badgers and Empathy Bears

September 9th, 2015

Two days ago, I arrived back in Chicago for HSCT transplant for MS. I have just been admitted into the hospital room where I will stay for the next 2.5 weeks. It’s a pretty nice room. I’m doing fine, and although I have a lot to tell you, I want to tell you about being home first.

I was home for three weeks in Raleigh. It was such a whirlwind, I had no time to post…

We have the first days of school, open houses, meet the teacher, PTA meetings, the climbing gym, coffee with friends, drinks with people, bridge, and brunch. Everything is good and fun, but it is emotionally exhausting. Everyone falls into one of two categories:

  1. I’ve told you all my secrets.


  1. I’ve told you nothing and you wonder if I’m suddenly the punk rock girl you always suspected me to be.

How am I going to present myself to everyone? I need to figure out how to act. I decide to be like the Honey Badger, because the Honey Badger doesn’t give a shit. Either you know about me or you don’t. It  doesn’t matter. I am the Honey Badger. I don’t even give a fuck.

(Watch this video if you are one of the 7 people who haven’t heard about the Honey Badger. )

With a purple mohawk, it was easy to pretend to be the Honey Badger. I looked like I meant it. But when my hair started to fall out, it got harder.

I thought my hair would fall out all at once, on, say, a Monday at 9:00 am. But it fell out in spells. It would get itchy, fall out for an hour or two, then stop. I could pick at it like a monkey picks at vermin, and this was surprisingly satisfying.

Eventually, enough fell out that I started referring to myself as “Patches MeGee.”


See that bald spot in the back, that’s where my hair rubs the pillow every night. Pretty, eh?

If you look up what to do when your hair starts falling out, you will see advice to shave it all off. The blog-o-sphere says is too demoralizing to watch it go piece by piece, and you will look crazy and homeless. But deciding when to shave your hair down with a razor is like deciding when to put your elderly dog to sleep. Is today the last day? Nope. Not yet. (Clearly, I waited as long as I could.)

Skinny has volunteered to shave his head bald in support of me. This is a very sweet thing to do. I decide that I want to do it in the Lot. (Every Tuesday, our gang goes climbing at the gym, and then at 9:00, we drink beers in the parking lot. We call it the Drinking Lot Club.) I text the gang: Skinny are I are going to shave our heads in the Lot tonight. We’ll be like twin weasels.

Stephanie texts back: I’m into weasel shows.

Gina texts: I’m into weasel shows, too.

Anna texts: Can’t wait to see the weasel gang.

It makes me giggle to think of us as a weasel gang. I imagine me and Skinny with little bandannas and guns.

When I get to the gym my friend Sheila asks if I have gotten sun, but I say, No, I’m blushing. She asks why, and I tell her that it’s hard to be losing my hair, and it’s possible that I am embarassed. I lift my scarf and show her Patches McGee.

In the Lot, Stephanie shaves my head, and Anna shaves Skinny’s. Anna’s getting married that Saturday, and we joke about her shaving her head before the wedding.  Her fiancé, Amanda, would murder her. Which is funny. There is  more lackluster joking, mostly about the heists and bank robberies that Skinny and I will pull when we both look like slippery weasels. I’m having trouble finding the joy in the moment. I wanted this to be fun, but I can’t help it. I feel sad about being bald.

The truth is, I am not the Honey Badger. I am vain. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know how to act normal. I want to lay in the dark and stare at the ceiling. I want to send a mannequin to the thousand things I have planned with friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and teachers. I wonder if people will believe that a mannequin of Halle Berry dressed up as cat woman is actually me?

Here are some pictures of me and Skinny.

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Everyone says I look beautiful bald. Sure, I’m gorgeous, but I’d rather have hair. I think of that internet meme about empathy and sympathy. It has a Sad Fox, a Sympathy Goat, and an Empathy Bear. In the response to the Fox’s sadness, the Sympathy Goat says, Yeah. That’s bad. Want a sandwich? And the Empathy Bear says, I know this is hard. And I’m here.

Shaving your head is what an Empathy Bear would do, and I’m grateful.

That night, Stephanie catches me on my way back from the bathroom and says, You’re doing a good job.

What? I say.

You’re handing this with grace and humor. It’s hard. Nobody wants to be bald.

All my tendons go loose. I can’t take this kindness because I am too busy holding myself together and being the Honey Badger. She starts to hug me and I say, You can’t hug me now. I don’t want to cry.

Stephanie wipes away her tears and nods. She’s an Empathy Bear, too.

This is harder than I thought it would be. And it doesn’t stop with just being bald.

I get prickly heat because I wear a head wrap to pick Zach up from school. It is too hot,  I’m a sweaty girl, but I am too vain to take off my head wrap.

I have an abundance of sore, itchy pimples.

Some of my hair is growing back in…in patches that make it look like I have male-pattern baldness.

And this morning as I am getting ready to go to Northwestern to be admitted for 2.5 weeks, I notice something else.

The hair that is growing back in is white.

Maybe I was never meant to be like a honey Honey Badger. That’s not my style.

I’m more of a fox, anyway.