Wings and Ribbons and Permanent Ink

To date there is only one Reveal Mission photo shoot that I initially felt was a failure. After interviewing Trina Klier-Murri about her cancer journey we planned to take her portrait at my home studio. Trina had fought hard against breast cancer. Besides having the affected breast removed she opted to prophylactically remove the other breast as well as her ovaries to make sure the cancer wouldn’t come back. She then underwent chemotherapy to make sure the cancer wouldn’t spread. Despite her and her doctor’s best efforts it later did.


Two years after being cancer free Trina decided to celebrate with a tattoo. She chose a wings tattoo across the top her back with a pink ribbon signifying her battle with breast cancer. The word “Warrior” was scripted across the tattoo in a nod not only to her own fight but to her “Warrior Sisters” who were now such an important part of her life. It was shortly after getting the tattoo that she found her cancer was back and had spread to her bones.

Before agreeing to participate in the inaugural Reveal Mission art show Trina told me that she didn’t want to smile for her portrait. To her the smiles were reserved for those who had battled cancer and had survived. I told her we could capture and share what she felt best told her story.

Besides having the portrait show her face we also wanted to feature her tattoo. We tried several poses during our photo shoot including looking over her shoulder as well as using a giant mirror. Reviewing them later I didn’t like any of the images. Either I couldn’t see her eyes or I couldn’t view the whole tattoo.

It was humbling to call Trina and tell her that I’d failed to capture a good portrait. My goal was to make the photo shoots as gentle as possible for these women as they’d already gone through so much and I knew the exposure and vulnerability of a photo shoot could be emotional. Asking her to come back was painful for me.

Trina showed me grace and showed up again to redo the portraits. What I didn’t recognize until later was that this experience bonded Trina and me. Once she believed I was truly committed to getting her story and portrait right she began to trust me and open up even more. Her trust helped me break through a creative barrier. Instead of trying to force her story into one image I asked her if we could share it in two. She responded back by asking me if that was okay with me. I laughed and told her since it was my project I guess I could make that call. The photo shoot felt more natural and she appeared more relaxed. I captured the image I wanted of her face and an image of her tattoo that we hung side-by-side in the art show with her story underneath. (Click for her story.)

After Trina died I decided to get a similar tattoo as a recognition of her life and also my ongoing fight against cancer, especially metastatic. While Trina had her tattoo inked on her back believing her cancer was behind her I knew I wanted it somewhere on my body where I could see it. I didn’t want the warrior script as I was not personally battling cancer in my body nor was I one of her Cancer Sisters, but I did want the tattoo to signify strength so I chose my right shoulder. Finally, I knew I didn’t want a pink ribbon, not because I’m afraid to wear pink - I have lots of pink clothing and pins that signify breast cancer awareness - but because Trina and my work together the next couple of years was about bringing recognition to Metastatic Breast Cancer. I wanted a tri-colored MBC ribbon in place of the pink one.

My only hesitation about getting the tattoo was the cost. Everytime I thought I had a little extra cash something would happen that seemed to take priority and the money would go towards a different budget or need.

Recently my family all met together in Hawaii for a family vacation where one of my daughters is serving in the Navy. The day we flew to Kauai my youngest son surprised me with the news that they had scoped out the best tattoo shop on the island - Farsyde Tattoo - and that I’d be getting inked the day before our flight home. We met with the tattoo artist later that week. I showed him photos of Trina’s tattoo and shared how I wanted it to honor her but also how I wanted it different. Rob Brasfield captured those ideas and created a tattoo that is now proudly on my right shoulder. I’m grateful for my generous kids (and my new daughter-in-law to be!) for getting me past another barrier and investing in my ongoing journey with the Reveal Mission.