• Alison

Celebrating with Tea & Tatts!

I’m a huge fan of celebrations, I love any excuse for a party, get together etc. I’m particularly fond of birthdays, and especially love celebrating mine, forget the age, it’s about the celebration! Mine was last Saturday and scheduled this year to fall on the day after my chemo, so I brought the festivities forward to Thursday and plotted a day out with my magnificent sisters, Siobhan and June. Siobhan is the superstar oncology nurse and June is the supreme makeup artist living it up in London town and various glamorous parts of the world, spreading glitter and eye flicks wherever she goes.

We are especially close as sisters go, there is roughly six years between us and I’m the oldest, so they have spent all their lives following in my footsteps (ha!). In truth they inspire me by their kind hearts and achievements, both personally and professionally. We three are very different in so many ways, but so similar in just as many. We talk alike and when we get together we can be very giddy and, most importantly, it’s never boring to be around these two diamond dolls.

Over the past few years we wanted to get something to “connect” us through a tattoo, especially with my ongoing relationship with the cancer. I’ve no idea where the idea originated, but we discussed everything from dots, to stars but nothing really hit the mark. Until I read an article in the Irish Times written by the son of the greatest poet of our times Seamus Heaney. He was explaining the last few days and hours they spent with their father just before his passing, and described the last words he sent to his wife just before he went down to surgery, from which he did not survive.

His son, the writer Mick Heaney generously shared with the world these previous and powerful words, written in latin “Noli Timere” “do not be afraid”, even in his dying minutes he had the perfect words to give strength to his wife and family when he was gone. When I read this, after I stopped crying, I was so taken with the words and their meaning. I’m a huge fan of his work and always loved the way he captured the special ordinariness of life so perfectly. But these words really stuck with me as the inspiration for that tattoo myself and the sisters had been plotting.

With all we have been through as a family since my illness, reminding them to never be afraid, no matter what the cancer does to me and know that we are stronger together when we don’t fear the future but live in the present that we have.

With lots of our sister plans, they can get talked about for a while, but if anyone who is a member of a big family there is always one ‘doer’ in the mix, the one who makes shit actually happen! You know, get parents anniversary presents, the Christmas dinner plan and the like, and in our house, that’s me. I’m the second oldest, but the girl so somehow this duty fell to me. So, with my impending birthday approaching, I thought no better time to mark the occasion than with a tattoo. At my, and our age, it could be seen as rather sad female mid-life crisis getting a tattoo, but the girls were up for it and the design and place discussion commenced.

We all basically agreed (kind of!) that we wanted it on our wrist, I felt strongly about this as I wanted to be able to see it every day and sure what is the point of getting a tattoo that you can’t see! Diaries needed to be coordinated and we agreed that we would do the deed on the Thursday before my birthday, as the chemo was booked in for the day before the actual date. No one was really sure what the protocol was for chemo and tattoos, so we just thought it was safer not to mix that little chemical cocktail! Having done some research into the various tattoo places in Dublin, I decided Dublin Ink was for us, professional, hygenic and the best reputation as far as I could gather. After a rather weird conversation where I stumbled over explaining what we were trying to do, and have the three of us inked at the same time, the laughing manager reassured me that they could look after us and the appointment was booked, deposit paid - no turning back now!

With the tattoo booked, we had to build in some other funness in to the day, and sure who doesn’t love an afternoon tea. We booked ourselves in to The Merrion Hotel for tea for three, a few hours before out tattoo appointment, a bit of dutch courage from battenburg cake, eggs brioche and of course some bubbles! Not very rock n roll, but ‘Tea & Tatts’ just seemed perfect for us three!

Nervously making our way through the Dublin streets from The Merrion to Cow’s Lane, Siobhan and I were giddy to get going, but as soon as we arrived, June was on the verge of doing a ‘runner’! She had made me write out noli timere about a 100 times the night before and even went so far as to write it out in pen on her arm and “this is what she wanted”. But her heart sank when our artist Mathew told us was not possible! Basically a mike drop moment, June is all about the detail being a makeup artist and was very particular about the shape, size and location of the words.

Let’s just say Matthew is very patient! A bit of reverse psychology on our part and we were all ready to go. The bravest, Siobhan was up first, reassuring us that it wasn’t sore and in no time the beautiful words were inked so expertly on to her wrist, we knew we had done the right thing. Even June was reassured! I was up next and I will admit there was a pinchy feeling, but nothing too unbearable at all, considering all the needles I’ve been prodded with over the years, this was a walk in the park. Once all three of us had our tattoos, it was quite emotional and made even more special by the marvellous Matthew who not only is an amazing artist, but a terrific human being and made the whole experience even more special sharing his funny stories with us (he has a tattoo of Michael Buble in a Santa hat on his thigh. I know. A lad who will do that is only up for having a laugh at all times!)

I probably should mention at this point that we did have a very interesting ice breaker with Matthew, he asked us why we were getting tattoos in the first place and what it meant. There was a very pregnant pause for what seemed like five mins and June burst out “cause she has cancer”. We followed this up with balls of laughter, and despite his jaw dropping it couldn't have been a better way for him to understand where we were coming from.

Tattoos successfully achieved, we met up with two of my best friends, sisters Orla and Clodagh in one of our old favourite watering holes, Keogh’s pub for a few celebration drinks. It was lovely to have them come in to celebrate with us, as they are both like sisters to me and walked hand-in-hand with me on this journey through Cancerland in the past few years. They are leading lights of my girl gang that are there for me and my family and always know just what to do and where to be when I need them. So turning up with ‘tattoo creams’ and a beautiful book about inspirational creative women birthday presents just demonstrates how well they know me.

I especially love these days, despite the fact that cancer looms over everything we do, we can have these extraordinary times and forget what the future may hold, the present is magnificent and I will embrace these marvellous moments. Another memory made for the bank that makes the bad days easier to bear, ‘Tea and Tatts’ is a hard act to follow but I’m pretty sure there will be more like this in the future. Suggestions on a sparkly, unicorn sented postcard please!

Alison xxx

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