My New Tattoo

I am not the first in the family to acquire a tattoo.

When my daughter Kate was midway between being a girl and being a woman, in that amorphous period when it was not clear if she was still in my charge or not, she asked if she could get a belly button ring. As if she needed to ask.

Yet some time later, she came into my office and said: “Dad, I know you told me I couldn’t get a belly button ring, and I know you can stop paying for my college, but it was important to me and I decided I wanted to get a belly button ring, and so I did it.”

I don’t exactly remember what I said, but I think I gave her a hug and told her that although I was disappointed, we would still keep paying for her college.

Kate was a regular blood donor, and it was a bittersweet moment when she learned that because of her assertion of independence by way of the tattoo she could no longer donate blood for at least two more years. From that, she wrote one of the most eloquent college-level essays I have ever read about the entire experience.

Of course, she later got a tattoo. By his time, she was married and had a couple of kids, so approaching me for permission was no longer an issue. But word got around, and my disappointment, or perhaps just puzzlement, was tempered when I learned that her tattoo consisted of the key phrase of her favorite hymn: “How can I keep from singing?” There followed a number of other tattoos, generally coinciding with when she and her friend Lauren got together, and I have not catalogued them but do not believe they are phrases from hymns.

She is no longer alone in this family.

When you go in for radiation and they fit you for the Mask of Death to keep you restrained during treatments, they want to make sure you are properly aligned for the Death Ray. As a result they give you a tattoo that they can use to line up your pitiful body with the machinery that surrounds you as you lie prone and immovable. Fine. But did they ask what I might want permanently affixed to my body? A favorite phrase, a boyhood hero, a fetching design, a phrase from a song? Oh no, mine was simply this:


A period. That’s it. If I want to put a clever phrase in front of it to make it meaningful, that’ll be on my dime.

So today, after I arrived for my first radiation treatment, they placed me on The Rack, attached the Mask of Death, lined up the machinery using the “.” and laughingly asked if I wanted them to tie my arms up so they wouldn’t dangle on the side. “No thanks, I’ve got this.”

The first session involved another CT scan to make sure everything was properly lined up, about 10 minutes. The doctor checked the scan, I overheard gales of laughter coming from the control room as they confirmed that they were about to barbecue the correct areas of my head and neck, and then they released the Death Ray to kill any lingering cancer cells and any other cells in the neighborhood.

It turned out to be anticlimactic. The actual treatment (ie, when the ray-gun is actually on) was less than 5 minutes, painless, and hardly made a noise. I closed my eyes during the whole thing, concentrated on slow deep breathing, and had no trouble breathing through the mask.

One down. Twenty-nine to go.

So the treatments themselves are no big deal; all the action is in the side effects, and they are many, generally starting after a couple weeks, and becoming worst during the last two weeks of treatment and the two or three weeks after treatment stops. Everyone is different, although there are some side effects that everyone gets from this kind of radiation. No need to catalog those here, I will deal with them as they come. One can get through anything for a month or two.

Sadly, there is one other consequence of radiation treatment. No belly button rings, ear rings, nose rings, or tattoos are permitted until it’s all over. But after that, Kate, let me know when Lauren is coming to town. I’ve got some ideas.

6 thoughts on “My New Tattoo

  1. Your sense of humor is so refreshing.
    Yet, I understand the seriousness of the situation and am praying for you through this, at Shirley’s request. Who Shirley loves, I love.


  2. If laughter IS the best medicine, your posts have stocked me with a bucket full. Harvey Walker (hoping to see you back in Cochin)


  3. Ken, I have been thinking about, and praying for, you. I have been wondering how your recovery is going; now I know. I will keep up the prayers and good thoughts. I am sure you will give your readers your insights into this astounding part of medical practice. I have seen people with “aiming points” tattooed on their heads and faces. It is good news that you have survived and received that honor, too.
    Happy Easter!

    Douglas B. Jensen

    5260 North Palm, Suite 421
    Fresno, CA 93704
    Tel: (559) 432-5400 ext. 202
    Fax: (559) 432-5620


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