“Battle scars”, are what my friend Cheska calls them. I like the way she thinks.
I have stitches on the right side of my neck, from a lymph node dissection. A hole in my throat now closed up from a tracheostomy, and a donor-free flap, taken from my left radial forearm, that was stitched into my tongue and mouth after the cancer removal. Finally, to cover up the open flesh of the arm: a skin donor from the top of my left thigh.
I’ve been told that I am brave for battling Cancer. I find that phrase interesting. I think surgeons and healthcare workers are brave for what they have to do every day, facing difficult situations that they have to perform regularly in.
Was I brave to go through surgery for stage 2 squamous cell carcinoma? I don’t quite see it like that. Surgery seemed like it was just a last-ditch effort made to ensure I could continue living. Not something I would seek out of courage. I found the absence of choice and fell into it. Or perhaps I’m too hard on myself.
I fought to finally get my diagnosis, and I feel certain about that statement. But was the surgery difficult?
No, I was under amnesia the whole time. I felt like I had no active role or opinion in the whole process leading to it. I signed my consent to the operation without thinking much of how it could affect me later on, because I was scared. Scared that this cancer had spread.
To be a patient is to be truly passive. Patience, from Latin, “patiens,“: meaning, to suffer or bear patiently, the “interventions of the outside expert”.
“What will you do for your 24th birthday?” my nurse L asks
24. Two years away from 26.
Around November 2021, before my second last biopsy at the Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital, I finally got my first tattoo. A simple one, just the text “184.108.40.206” in a source sans pro font. The number is significant to me, and I’d argue it is significant for internet history. It now lays close to the incision points of my left arm donor site.
220.127.116.11 was the first IP Address assigned to internet activist Aaron Swartz’s laptop at MIT Campus on September 24, 2010. “Gary Host”, as Swartz named the laptop, was used on that day as the beginning of a three-month guerilla academic journal downloading process that led to his indictment. But, in the end, it wasn’t JSTOR against Swartz, nor was it MIT; it was Swartz versus US copyright law. And nobody really won that trial. On January 11, 2013, at only 26 years old, Swartz commits suicide. Many say the US government hung him and left him to dry. It seemed that a bit of the collective human spirit died that day, as well.
I suggest you research his life and legacy in your own time, as my short summary of one facet of his life doesn't suffice for the magnitude of the communities that he has led. To me, this tattoo signifies two things: To be clever and to be cautious. As I am realizing more and more, institutions and individuals who may seem to be open to the radical imaginings of an open society will end up doing everything they can, to shut you out from even trying.
Not because your ideas are bad, or that you're unliked, but for reasons far beyond your control. Because, change is terrifying. Comfort is our worlds' greatest blessing, and deepest curse.