Breast Cancer Awareness Month: tattooing life on your chest

Photo by Rob Berkley

I love stories when fear, sadness or heartbreak transform into experiences of inspiration, courage and creativity.

Today I want to share with you just such a story.  And, it’s personal to me because the women involved are two women I love and work the closest with at Women on Fire — Jamie Eslinger and Blue Cullen.

I know none of us is untouched by cancer.

And, because October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, what Jamie and Blue have to share couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Maybe you, too, even have a “dots” story to share.  Below is their story, written by Jamie in her inspiring daily blog The Promise 365.


Breast cancer tattooing life on your chest
by Jamie Eslinger

I have four or five tattoos on my body.

Honestly, I lost count after number four.  There could be five or six for all I know.

There is one tattoo right under my chin.  Another on my chest and on my belly.  I think there could be one or two more on my sides as well.

I didn’t choose my tattoos.
They were given to me as part of the cancer treatment du jour.

The thing is, the timing was perfect. It was right around the hot pop trend of teenage girls donning tattoos. Mostly around their ankles, with little butterflies and dolphins.  It wasn’t really rebellious, it was more of a statement of independence.

Tattoos were still somewhat taboo, but these dainty little decorations seemed to be graciously accepted in the teeny-bop set.  Well, to be fair, it was the age of grunge.

Regardless, I have always loved mine, the little dots the size of a pinhead lining the middle of my chest, neck and chin. In fact, whenever the conversation of tattoos appears, I proudly announce that I have many.

They are like battle wounds, prized possessions, marked memories. And, like most tattoos, they speak louder than words about where one has been and what one knows.

So, today, I was thrilled to learn someone I work with everyday at Women on Fire also has tattoos of the survivor kind.  This morning, Blue asked me, “Hey, Jamie, did you know I am a cancer survivor, too?”

I didn’t know.
We immediately embraced in that sisterly hug of a shared cancer connection.  Then Blue shared the story of her tattoo.

Instead of just being marked with the map of radiation dots for breast cancer treatment, Blue turned one dot into a meaningful memory by having it morphed into the OM symbol.

It reminds me of watching those old The Joy of Painting television shows when I was a little girl.  I loved seeing how Bob Ross would turn a smudge here or a drip there into a beautiful swan or a lovely tree.

There are no mistakes.
Just happy accidents.

And, I guess that’s how I feel about Blue’s tattoo ~ what a happy accident.  Nobody would ask for cancer or any of the side effects it comes with, including tattoos.  But, what a way to turn a gentle reminder about survival into a beautiful prayer for life.

Thank you Blue, for letting me share it here, too.
It’s good inspiration for the body and soul — proudly worn right over your heart.

Double Debbies

Martha’s Vineyard, MA — If your name is Nancy Brown, Jim Smith or Jennifer Jones, you are quite likely used to sharing your name with others.

Not so much so if you are Blue Cullen, Kim DeYoung or Debbie Phillips!

In fact, I’d never heard of a single other Debbie Phillips until I went to college.

After leaving Montpelier, Ohio, population 4,300, to attend The Ohio State University with its 55,000 students, I was in awe to learn at least five others on campus were named Debbie Phillips.  (To avoid confusion with all of them, I became more identified by my Social Security number. My name became:  “Ends in -0003.”

I never met any of the other Debbie P’s at school even though I was hoping to.  (There was no Google or Facebook back then to track them down…who am I kidding? The Internet was not even invented yet. Seriously!)

Over the years, people would tell me they knew others with my exact name but I never did.

Then, a few years ago, I learned that Debbie Phillips was running for elected office to the Ohio Legislature.  When she won, I received congratulations (nice!) …and bewilderment from an old friend who wondered if I had moved back to Ohio and gone into politics.

Then, one day it happened:

I got to meet my first Debbie Phillips!!!!

Debbie Phillips meets Debbie Phillips

The state legislator Debbie Phillips came to the Metropolitan Club in Columbus, Ohio where Ginny Barney, Patricia Wynn Brown and I were speaking on the Women on Fire book tour.  I felt so honored to meet her. My twin namesake Debbie and I had only a few minutes together that day… but I wanted hours.

I felt a remarkable kinship to this other Debbie Phillips…and I had a million questions.  In school, was she, too, called Little Debbie cakes?  Phebbie Dillips? Debra, when her mother was mad?  We agreed to meet up again someday for lunch.  (And, it won’t matter which of us makes the reservation!)

Over the years, I’ve spoken to other friends about this.  (My former colleague John Meekins once invited every Meekins in the city phone book to a party at his house so he could get to know these same-name people he wasn’t related to…and yet he was!)

I’d love to hear about your own experiences meeting …or not meeting… your namesake.