After thirty years of marriage and lots of conversations starting with, “Barry…We need to talk…”, one would think that every subject imaginable had been discussed. Occasionally those conversations happened simply because Libby wanted to talk, but many times when she said, “Barry…We need to talk…”, it meant I was in trouble and it didn’t take long to discover that, with Libby, there was a right and a wrong, a black and a white but very few greys.
Following Libby’s diagnosis of breast cancer we were introduced to a whole host of subjects that, until now, we had never even considered, much less discussed. We were both making adjustments continually because our lives were completely different BC (Before Cancer) than they were AC (After Cancer):
BC (Before Cancer) Libby never had to advise me as to the best methods for washing, conditioning, drying, combing and fixing her hair.
BC I never would have dreamed of offering an opinion about whether Libby would look better with spiked hair or with it parted on the side in a “boy cut”.
BC I never thought that Libby would ask me to help her apply her Merle Norman foundation, makeup, blush and eye liner stuff.
BC I never dreamed that we would be casually viewing photos and discussing breast implants options with a plastic surgeon.
And finally, BC I never dreamed that one day I would be encouraging Libby to get a tattoo:
Following chemo treatments, on Libby’s first visit to the radiologists’ office, a bubbly young nurse was escorting us back to the exam room when she nonchalantly turned to Libby and asked in her perky little Smurf voice, “So, Mrs. Gilley, what kind of tattoo are you planning to get? Libby stopped dead in her tracks, unwilling to go any further as she called out to the nurse who had continued walking down the hallway. “I’m not real sure I understand what you are talking about Nurse Perky, but I’m certainly not getting a tattoo!”,
(OK, I took some literary license there, Libby didn’t actually call her “Nurse Perky” because in the last few minutes Libby had taken the time to learn our nurse’s real name, her hobbies, how many siblings she had, what church she attended, where she did her postgraduate work, her favorite Christian artist and who she was dating. I, however, did not even bother to learn her name, so Nurse Perky it is; besides this is my story.)
Nurse Perky came back to where Libby was planted and gently guided her into the exam room as she explained that some people get a tattoo to cover up the radiation alignment marks that she was about to receive. Perky also said that it became a kind of “badge of honor” for many of their female cancer patients to incorporate the ink spots into the eyes of a dolphin or the antenna of a butterfly tattoo.
After dropping the tattoo bombshell, Nurse Perky left the room just as Dr. Getner entered to find an agitated Libby who explained as succinctly and briskly as she was able that she would not be getting ink dots, initials, a dolphin or a butterfly tattoo, today or at any time in the future and if that was what this procedure was going to involve, she would just leave now.
Dr. Getner had unknowingly walked into a hornet’s nest as he attempted to explain to Libby that alignment was critical and permanent ink tattoos were the preferred method, adding that they had tried using a Sharpie to make the marks but if it wore off then it would mean a long involved process of re-marking and equipment re-calibration.
I offered to Libby, what I thought were some helpful suggestions for a tattoo such as “mom”, “Barry”, and a heart with our initials, etc. but I received one of those looks that made me reconsider my input altogether.
A compromise was reached when Libby earnestly reassured her doctor that if he used a Sharpie, the marks would stay on for the duration of the six-week treatment. We kept that promise by taping plastic over the Sharpie marks every time Libby showered and strategically placing Band-Aids to prevent her clothes from wearing the marks off for the next two months. Those precautions and retouching with a Sharpie anytime the mark started to fade were the only things that kept Libby from becoming a tattooed lady and slipping into the dark side.