Ironman Arizona 2017 - Part 10 - The Tattoo


Exactly three years ago today, I crossed the finish line at Ironman Arizona 2017.  I just got my Ironman tattoo (more than one!) last week.  The big eyes on the goldfish are like mine when I was learning to swim: wide with fear and anticipation!  The black cat is my favourite animal.  It is curious, intrigued, and reaching for the swimming goldfish with desire just like I wanted to become an Ironman so intensely.  

My Ironman watercolour tattoo by @Lassknuckles at Human Kanvas

Here's why I waited and why NOW is the perfect time to get it.

When I crossed the finish line, I was the happiest I had ever been.  I thought I was healthy and that I had embraced healthy habits as part of an active lifestyle.  I had been pushing myself past my comfort zone and endurance limits and just never kept it up.  I put a lot of things off like doctor's appointments so that I could just get to the finish line.  More on that later.  After Ironman:

  • I was glad to give up running.  I had done most of the local races (5K, 10K, half marathons, marathons and 50K ultra marathons).  I probably should have stuck with 5 and 10Ks because the longer distances took a lot more time and began to impact my relationships with family.  It's funny now, I spent a lot of time running with people and listening and chatting but have lost touch with most of them now that we no longer have that in common.
  • I had started cycling to work and done some duathlons before I learned to swim.  I thought I would keep biking to work and back but it's a lot of prep to be sure you have your lunch and a change of clothes for meetings downtown.  It's scary biking in the winter on the dark icy pathways so I just didn't.  
  • Learning to swim in my mid forties was one of the hardest, most humbling things I have ever done and there were definitely days when it was Keith's encouragement and coaching that carried me through my lack of belief in myself.  My hair and nails were thin and breaking and after a few months out of the chlorine my hair started to get long, thick and healthy and I just didn't want to go back in.  

So fast forward to three years later.  

  • We have finished most of our home renos after living in the same older house for 11 years.  
  • I learned German and travelled to Germany twice already with our friend Antje who has been our housemate for over three years now.  She has joined our household permanently for as long as she wants to stay, renovated and redecorated her room, and we all just adopted two sweet baby Rottweiler puppies together.  
  • Antje's puppy is named Ruby and Ken's puppy is named Midas.  
  • I'm the kitty momma of our three adult cats.  
  • We go hiking and camping and snorkeling in Maui whenever we get the chance and spend time with our families regularly though Covid changed that for us since March 2020 when infection rates spiked in our city, province and country, lowered over the summer enough to visit outdoors, then skyrocketed again this fall.  
  • Hubby and I have been working from home since March so we are one of the families who feel this is the right time to adopt a puppy (or two!) since we are home most of the time. 
  • I never thought I would see hubby smile again after his Rottie puppy passed away years ago and it is amazing to see his face light up just thinking of puppies! 

2020 started off with end of days type chaos including fires, Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, school and business closures,  a scramble to find a vaccine, the impeachment of a US president, a stock market crash and worldwide recession, Black lives matter protests, murder hornets, explosions in Beirut and Lebanon, a cyclone in India, a plane crash in Pakistan and India, horrific conditions revealed with high rates of Covid transmission and resulting deaths in long term care homes in Canada, release of prisoners to reduce the risk of transmission, an earthquake in Mexico, a landslide in Myanmar, typhoons in Asia.  Sources: NYT and Wikipedia

On the personal side, just after turning 50, I was informed that I had cancer this January.  I wasn't too surprised since about 40% of us will get cancer of some sort in our lifetimes.  I went in expecting to have Moh's surgery (where thin layers of skin are removed and examined under a microscope until all the cancer cells are removed with "clear margins") for a mole on my back, just to be told to lie on the operating table and prepare for wide local excision (like gutting a turkey and stitching up the neck) for an in situ (stage 0) Melanoma that left a 2 inch scar on my back.  

Next I found out I had a second melanoma after a biopsy on a pink itchy mole on the outer edge of my ear that I had mentioned a few times but was so atypical that it was dismissed a few times.  It was amelanotic (no black or brown colour) and raised (nodular not superficially spreading).  I was told to prepare to lose a one or two inch margin all around that.  Well, that would be the whole bottom half of my ear.  My family joked that they would love me even without ears and that I didn't need ears since I never listen anyway.  Thankfully I ended up with both a cancer surgeon and plastic reconstruction specialist so my ear looks pretty normal now almost a year later.  The lobe is thick and full of scar tissue.  I don't think I will bother getting it re-pierced because I don't want more trauma to the area or anything heavy dangling off of it.  They removed three lymph nodes from my neck to be sure it hadn't spread to stage 3.  Thankfully it hadn't and was therefore a stage 2 cancer.  

That's "just skin cancer" right?  Melanoma is a more serious and deadly form of skin cancer than non-melanoma skin cancers like Squamous Cell or Basal Cell Carcinomas.  Now I get my skin checked every 6 months.  Melanoma is rare.  Melanoma on the ear is rare.  

My amazing Ironman / photographer friend Keith took some super photos of me in May for Melanoma awareness month.  The Calgary Tower was lit up that night in honour of it.  I wanted to do something positive, and I love the photos so much they became my profile and banner pics on social media.

I already have Celiac disease, ended up with IBS in my last year of Ironman training (maybe from all the hurried ongoing ravenous eating, snacking and rushing), developed painful GERD/reflux which is better ow, and tenosynovitis in my wrist and thumb from all the intense keyboarding that comes with working to support online learning.  It started in January, I started treatment in February, everything was closed for months so I was unable to get treatment or an official diagnosis.  

There were days I didn't want to get out of bed it was so painful and I felt so depressed and useless having to ask my family to do the laundry and cook while I couldn't hold my toothbrush or coffee mug unless I used both hands.  They reminded me that we all take care of each other and the measure of my own worth is not just by what I "do" or accomplish and that I do lots for them too.  I bought braces, iced, took ibuprofen and more. When I was able to get treatment after the lockdown lifted, I needed a steroid injection.  Work got me dictation software when it got really bad in September and it's going better with all of those accommodations.  I still baby it and worry that I might not be able to lift the puppies.

I feel like the brand new car I have been driving carefully and giving premium oil changes to just gave out and the timing belt broke after this many miles.  So now what?  I don't need to live like I will live to be 150.  It's time to lease or rent with an option to renew ever ten years.  It's time to go for a long drive in the countryside and get out of the city traffic with all the rules to obey and dangers and cautions to avoid.  It's time to find balance and just be and enjoy life every day.  

Less than 1% of the population finishes an Ironman so that is rare too.  I did it to remind me that I am stronger than I think, capable, resilient and determined when I am worn down, exhausted and full of self-doubt.  Now it's time to bring that reminder forward front and center.  It's time to get that puppy and get that tattoo!

Since I was in my teens, I listened to those who cautioned me to think before I ink, to wonder what a faded tattoo would look like on wrinkled, saggy, stretched, veiny skin, and wonder if I would regret it.  Nope.  I wanted to get it done when I found out I had cancer but I had to wait until I found an artist I liked whose books were open (taking new clients) and then for the lockdown and closure of tattoo studios that started in mid-March to be over.  In fact, now that I still want it now that I am a little more of all of those things that come with being older and more comfortable in my own skin, I got the exact on I tattoo I designed over three years ago: thin lines, negative space and watercolour effect on my ankle to remind me that I am strong even when I feel weak. (You can see my sketch in Part 6 linked below).  Mind over matter.  Anything is possible.  

Oh and that scar on my back?  It looks much better now.  And I got a funny cat scratch tattoo on it too and a maple leaf on my wrist because I'm Canadian, a black ribbon (for Melanoma) behind my ear, a sun on my foot to remind me that after every long dark winter comes a warm sunny spring or a trip to a sunny vacation destination, and a dragonfly because I love their freedom, flight and iridescence.  These photos were taken right after the tattoo session, before they were wrapped up for healing.  

I got inked by @Lassknuckles at Human Kanvas

This week, when I got my "all clear" skin check, my dermatologist said she liked my cute colourful tattoos and agreed that sometimes you just have to go for it.  I was prepared to hear that tattoos make melanoma detection more difficult and say that I accepted the risks.  I was happy that she was positive and said that the risk is more on larger blacker tattooed areas.  Either way, I'm finally comfortable in my own (imperfect) skin and looking for happiness in each and every day!

In case you missed it:

Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 1 - Getting There
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 2 - Race Morning and Swim
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 3 - T1 and Bike
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 4 - T2 and Run
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 5 - Guest post by volunteer Sharon
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 6 - Finish Line & Beyond
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 7 - Guest post by coach Keith 
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 8 - IMAZ2017 epic trailer (1 min video)
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 9 - Ironman Arizona 2017 - Michelle's Day (6 min video)


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