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Patra Mangus: Tattoos represent my life’s journey

At the age of 55 I survived Stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma with an unknown primary site. I had major surgery, but the cancer returned. I did four rounds of chemotherapy at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and have been cancer-free for eight years. My tattoos are a reminder of how fortunate I am to live in an area with a major cancer research hospital.

Permanent body art is not for everyone. People who have them say that each tattoo represents a part of their life and history. A personal art collection, if you will.

My son was 17 years old when we signed for his first tattoo as a reward for good grades. We figured he was going to get one anyway and this way we got to approve the design, since we were paying for it.

My oldest daughter decided that facial piercings and green hair didn’t make her stand out enough in high school, so a tattoo was the next order of business for her, once she was in college.

Me? I waited until I was 50 years old to get my first tattoo. It was a gift from my children, who all chipped in for a birthday present.

They recommended having it placed somewhere they considered the least painful, so I had four small blossoms inked onto my calf, representing myself and my children. I was excited and showed my “ink” to anyone who was interested.

I am now the proud owner of a dozen pieces of body art, and each and every one has meaning for me. The aforementioned daughter and I have matching designs on our feet; my great niece designed some snowflakes that are on my back. I have a lily on my back for my first grandchild named Lily, and St. Michael is on the other calf for my grandson Michael.

Tattoos are a great conversation starter. My ink has allowed me to meet some fascinating people, several of whom I most likely would have never come in contact with.

The tattoos that get the most attention are on my inner wrists. They are the chemical symbols of the chemotherapy drugs that saved my life from Stage 4 cancer. One drug is cisplatin and the other is referred to as 5-FU.

One day at the Broadway Market, a man asked if he could see my wrists. He was astounded. He then asked to photograph them. He explained that he was a chemist who worked for the pharmaceutical company that manufactured the drugs. He said “the guys at work aren’t going to believe this. You don’t understand … we never see the end result of our work!” My story is now part of the company’s new hire orientation. Every Easter he comes to the market to see if I’m still alive.

I met another person who noticed the symbols, and through conversation, I discovered he was Dr. Thierry Maison, who helped design the first full-body CT scanner in North America. I’ve had a lot of CT scans and it was an honor to meet one of the people who helped with the accurate diagnosis of my illness.

Now, as age 70 inches ever closer, I look forward to my next ink session. I have a granddaughter in Texas, named Helen, which means “ray of light,” so I have to find a way to have a ray of light tattooed somewhere on my body.

I have one child who has no interest in body art of any kind. It appears she is the “weirdo” of this family.

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