My sister, spaceship tattoos, and cancer

Laura was ten years older than me, and she was my idol.  When I was 18, she and I shared an apartment at the start of the school year.  Her boyfriend Ron started off with us also in that apartment but then moved out and on with his life a couple of months later.  So Laura, her dog Shiner and I fell into a rhythm  ~ we were both taking classes at the local university, she was working as a waitress at a bar/ club.  I was searching for myself and dating lots of guys, going out and dancing and enjoying my youth.  Laura was working but also enjoyed dancing and just hanging out. Living with Laura was always an adventure.  She was protective, yet wouldn’t hesitate to tell me to get off my butt and stop whining.

Laura and I both had our own bathrooms and its funny but many of our conversations took place in one of our bathrooms. Our conversation about her tattoo was no different.  She was in her tub when she told me she wanted a spaceship tattoo.  She wanted to have either people or an alien waving from the inside of the ship.  This was back in 1982 before tattoos became mainstream.  Laura explained she was going to go up to Chicago and make a trade with some tattoo artist.  I am not sure if she was planning on exchanging beadwork or what really.  I don’t think she knew either.  I was not happy about this idea at all.  I felt that tattoos were for other people, not my beautiful sister.   I begged her not to do it.  But she did, that January, she got a spaceship tattoo over her left breast.  It was about 2 inches wide and about an inch and half tall. It was colorful and had a little person on the inside waving or maybe I just imagined that part.  She didn’t make a trade but paid cash for it.  She said she drank some whiskey to help with the pain when she was getting it.   Great now I had a sister with a tattoo~ a spaceship tattoo.

Fast forward~ almost 20 years. Laura was living with her husband and her dark-haired beautiful daughter when she found out she had breast cancer on the same breast as her tattoo.  I had lost a best friend a couple of years earlier to breast cancer so I was very nervous and upset to hear this news.  Laura being the big sister that she always was ~ wanted to reassure me that, she was going to survive this and not to worry.   So Laura started having the talk with her doctor about her plan of action.  Living in the Boston area she was fortunate enough to be surrounded by excellent doctors and proven cancer treatments. This was some reassurance but still, I had not only lost a close friend recently but I lost my father to cancer when I was 13.  And my sister was now my best friend I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her.  So Laura opted for standard traditional western treatment with a few eastern treatments as well.

Surgery would be the first treatment.  I made plans to fly out after she returned home to help take care of her and her daughter.  So her husband could continue working and supporting the family.  I would sleep on my niece’s top bunk.  I fixed meals, did laundry, and cleaning.  And I helped Laura take a shower.  Laura opted for a lumpectomy so they only took part of her breast.  Laura wanted me to really look at her scar and pointed out to me that she still had her spaceship tattoo.  I had to laugh.  Yes, Laura you still have your tattoo.  She told me this was one of her concerns she was told she had cancer.  Seriously sister?  You were concerned about losing your tattoo?  She told me she asked the doctor if they had to take the skin with the tattoo on it.  She wanted to keep it.  Yes, keep the skin with the spaceship tattoo. She said, and she told him she wanted to put it in a jar so she could still keep it.  I guess it was lucky for all of us that the surgery only took part of her breast.

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