I had thought I would never get a tattoo. I worried about having to live with something gained in a moment of whimsy but that would not travel through time. I wanted to keep the canvas of my skin bare. Clear. Untouched.
Then my mother got cancer. Her diagnosis coincided with huge changes in my life. I was weeks away from ‘opening the doors’ of Archeus when she was told she had six months to live. She fought for 15 months.
During those 15 months I launched Archeus while living in Wellington, took her to medical appointments in Hawke’s Bay; and then in October last year, my partner and I moved from Wellington to a lifestyle property we had bought in the Bay… my turangawaewae. You could say there was a lot going on.
I found myself thinking that I wanted to mark this period of huge transition with something definite. Her illness had made me question who I was. I wanted to make a mark that said to me, ‘I am here, this is me’.
I must confess, the idea of a tattoo being that mark started as an act of rebellion, but quickly transformed into something much more powerful. It became something liberating, totemic, a definite mark that recognised the cycle of life as well as my own journey. Once that thought got hold of me it felt, well, it felt empowering.
Meanwhile, rewind to 2013: Stefan Sinclair of Two Hands Tattoo in Ponsonby had asked me if I could make a tattoo oil to help heal new tatts. I had an initial flurry with this and he liked what I did, but we were both busy and the idea drifted, largely because at that point in time I probably didn’t know where tattoo fitted for me. Then after 12 months or so, I returned to the idea, albeit at a slight tangent, through trying to help friends and my mother, who had skin problems from cancer treatments.
I focussed on herbs that help with healing wounds, ease itch and burn, soothe and nourish. I worked on various formulas and road tested them all until I was satisfied I had achieved the right balance of healing attributes and gentle nourishment.
Various people (including my mother) tried out my formulas on sore skin, itchy skin, and on new tattoos and old ones (not my mum!); but for me the pivotal moment came when a friend of a friend used the oil and the balm to help heal a tattoo she had done on her reconstructed breast after having a mastectomy. Like me, she had never considered getting a tattoo but now it had become something significant, it became part of taking her body back for herself. Tattoo enabled her to write over cancer. This wasn’t just ink. It was empowerment.
I was incredibly touched that, through the oils and balms I had made, I was contributing to her healing journey. Suddenly the coinciding of her journey and mine made the art of tattoo incredibly relevant and I wanted to make my balms and oils available to others. The wonderful counsellor Sheila Hight, of Esperanza Counselling in Hawke’s Bay, works with many cancer patients. She emphasised to me how profound it is for cancer patients to feel they have regained some control over their bodies, how tattoo's ability to transform can be a power for good, and how important it is to have gentleness in the treatment journey. She loved the idea of the gentle healing of a little bit of nature in a journey that can be anything but natural.
My mum died a few days before Christmas. I got my tattoo in the New Year. It's small and simple and I love it. I would even say I draw strength from it. And my tattoo balm and oil are now available which I am delighted about. And I marvel once again at the cyclic nature of life, at how things come full circle as I post off a batch of the products to Two Hands Tattoo. What's more this whole experience has made me really want to help connect women who have gone through mastectomies with tattoo artists that can, through artistry and ink, help them write over the marks that cancer has made on their bodies, to take their body back for themselves… to look in the mirror and marvel at the empowerment of ink on the canvas of their skin.
So if you know of, or are, a tattoo artist who does this work in New Zealand, do get in touch as I would like to help profile the beauty and importance of the work you do... helping women on their healing journeys. Meanwhile have a look at this link to feel awed and inspired by the beauty and bravery of these women.