In Jon Christoffersen’s house, important occasions - such as the end of chemotherapy - are worthy of great celebration. First it was a tattoo to mark the beginning and end of his treatment, and now, on his 10-year anniversary of being cancer free, it’s time to party.
A house party complete with toast in his honor and a “%&#%$# Cancer” cake marked the occasion in December for Christoffersen, who had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) when he was a teenager. He's now 29. Although he never needed a bone marrow transplant, he and his wife, Kelly, were aware of how important that option is for many survivors and included a representative from Be The Match. They told their guests how easy it was to be a marrow donor and the only people who didn’t sign up were those who were too old, had an extreme needle issue or a pre-existing blood condition.
While Christoffersen appreciated the party, he noted that it doesn't take much for him to remember his cancer experience as he had his first and last dates of chemo tattooed on his left forearm.
He chose a barcode tattoo that includes the dates he started and ended chemotherapy. The stripes reference a verse from the Bible “…by his stripes we are healed,” which foreshadows Christ's flogging before His crucifixion that paid for our sins and gave us a second chance at life, he said. “PAID” in red letters is symbolic of both having paid in blood, and blood cancer, generally.
“I've always liked tattoos, but I didn't want to get anything insignificant. I figure cancer is pretty significant,” he said. “People make a big deal about tattoos being a permanent mark on your body, and use it as a test of shame and regret -- "Will you still want it when you're old and wrinkled?" -- but my body had already been marked, I was just adding a little ink.”
He feels grateful to be alive and often remarks about being part of the first generation of kids to survive ALL. It seemed appropriate to have a permanent, visible symbol of what he’s been through.
While he never would want to go through cancer again, he is thankful for some things that came out of it. He was given a wish through Make-A-Wish, and instead of meeting a celebrity or going to a championship game, he asked for his first computer. He is now a successful full-time animator, and in going to school for technical arts he met Kelly.
Chemo was hard on his cognitive functions. He had wanted a math, science or programming career but was receiving methotrexate spinal fluid injections as part of the regimen, and they impacted his ability to solve math and logic-type problems. It was extremely frustrating. As part of the computer package that Make-A-Wish arranged, he also received an image editing software package.
“That computer, which my family couldn’t afford, became sort of a gateway into artistic pursuits for me, and it was instrumental in setting the course of my whole life,” he said. “There was a very obvious "butterfly effect" from having gained access to a computer. Things would have played very different for me otherwise.”
Kelly, who had looked forward to throwing the party for years, believes that occasions worth celebrating should be celebrated well.
A few years ago they thought his cancer might have come back - thankfully, it had not.
“Seeing him thrive and bounce back makes him even more special to me. Every year is a milestone to me, but you have to wait until the big, round numbers to really celebrate, just like with the major birthdays and relationship anniversaries,” she said.