DAY ONE.

“My dad told me I was put on this earth for a reason,

and now is when I’m going to find out why.

He told me that today—which I will hereby refer to as DAY TWO. Tomorrow will be DAY THREE, the day after that will be DAY FOUR, and so on and so on. It sounds appropriately ominous and a bit like one of those apocalyptic books/shows I adore so much, so I’m keeping it. *cue JAWS theme song*

Because, it kind of feels like the apocalypse has landed, at least for me. My own personal apocalypse. Except there’s no zombies to behead, no deranged humans to take razor-wire-wrapped bats to.

It’s just me.

I was two-years-old when my parents separated, three when they divorced, and nearly six when the custody battle begun. But that’s a story for a different day.

At the age of seven, I was living with my mother and her new husband. My mother…she was one of those perpetually sad people, one of those souls that even when they’re laughing or smiling, you could still see, still sense, still feel the underlying torture. Her expression, no matter how happy she seemed, was always one frown line away from falling to pieces. She cried a lot. When she watched sad movies. When she would look out at the ocean. When she was standing in front of the mirror. She’s sad in every picture I have of her. She’s the girl that poems are written about. The broken one. With taped together butterfly wings.

My mother, Elizabeth, and me, 1987.

Over the love-seat in our living room hung a large framed portrait of my grandmother—Madeline Sheehan—painted by and given to my mother by one of her brothers. My mother often stared at it. She prayed to it. It was shrine to a woman I’d never met, and would never meet as Madeline Sheehan was diagnosed with breast cancer when my mother was twelve-years-old, and died only seven years later. All I’ve ever known of my namesake is the few stories I’ve been told, a few old photographs I’ve seen, and the hauntingly beautiful portrait that watched over our home. And that she owned every single one of my mother’s many tears.

Madeline Sheehan, The OG

Around the age of eleven things fell apart at home. I ended up moving in with my father and his wife, and my mother moved away. I didn’t see her very often, we spoke infrequently on the phone, and I eventually began to pretend she didn’t exist…because to think of her meant I was the one now staring off in the distance, crying. Staring into the mirror, crying. Watching sad movies, crying. And so I railed against the person I was becoming, because I wanted to be nothing like my mother. So instead of tears, I embraced rage. I raged at the ocean. At the mirror. At anything that invoked emotion inside of me. At just anything, really. Because I was nothing like her. And if I had my way, I never would be.

How very much I had yet to learn.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 22. I was at bar when she called me, drinking with friends. I recall stumbling outside and asking her to repeat herself. “I have breast cancer,” she said calmly. As if she’d always known this day would come. As if this day had been hanging over her head like a looming demon waiting to invade. And once it had, my mom took a deep breath, looked it dead in the eyes and said simply, “Let’s do this.”

I sputtered through my questions, tears forming in my eyes. She’d been diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, the worst kind. The most aggressive, fast-growing kind. And grow fast it did. It went from her breast to her lymph nodes, to her lung, to her brain. She was stage IV. I was going to lose my mother, I was sure of it. Worse, I barely knew the mother I was going to lose. It had been ten years since we’d lived in the same house. And even longer since I’d felt her love.

I hung up with her feeling wretched, walked back inside thatbar and…well, that’s a story for a different day, when I feel like divulging adifferent piece of myself.

I don’t know when I became so fucking fatalistic, possibly somewhere between my mother leaving and adulthood, I suppose. Punk Rock was my life anthem. My boot-stomping rage. My damn-the-man super power. Further, I was convinced there was no point to life, no purpose to anything, no higher power, no answers waiting to be obtained. There was just here and now and rage and pain. Someday someone would turn all that ugly into something beautiful, but that is also another story for another day.

My mother called again. My stepfather was out of town, their three kids were too young to drive, and she needed a ride to Chemotherapy. And it was as if someone had placed a defibrillator on my chest and dosed my stagnant heart with a bolt of “give a fuck”. I ran to her, and I didn’t look back. I wish I could say the rage was instantly snuffed out, but that took a little longer.   

She didn’t die.

Five years after starting treatment she was pronounced cancer free. To this day she remains cancer-free. The demon sleeps. My mother is beautiful, living proof of it.

My mother, Elizabeth, 2018

Last week, Friday, the doctor reviewing my mammogram showed me something. It looked like nothing to me, but it was something of concern to him. “There’s something there,” he said, pointing to a picture of my right breast. “You see last year’s mammogram,” he continued, clicking on his keyboard. Another image appeared. He gestured to it. “It wasn’t there then. We need to do a biopsy.”

I left his office in a bit of daze. It was fine, I thought, everything was fine. I’m in my 30’s. It was more than likely a calcium deposit, or something else of little concern. I’d recently lost a lot of weight and my breasts had inevitably shrunk so maybe it had something to do with that?  I recalled my stepmother having something removed from one her breasts when I was teenager that turned out to be nothing. Even my mother, when she was 34 years old, more than a decade before her cancer appeared, had a benign lump removed from her breast.

I scheduled the biopsy for the following Tuesday. Just thispast Tuesday actually, as my breast is still bruised and bandaged from theprocedure. They said they’d call in a few days with the results and not even24-hours later my cell phone rang.  

“The test was positive. You have cancer.”

I froze.

The back door was open. I’d let the dog out only moments agoand cold air was blowing through the house.

“What?”

“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice softer. Careful. “The testwas positive. It’s cancer.”  

I stared at the wall, my headcocked to one side. Fear and panic rushed in alongside the cold wind. My heartstarted pounding wildly.

THE DEMON IS HERE.

I could feel him suddenly—unwelcome and unwanted, arms wrapped around my chest, hands wrapped around my neck. He’s hot and growing hotter. He’s palpable, suffocatingly so. He’s going to take me away from this life I love. From my nine-year-old son who still needs me. From my adoring husband I didn’t ever deserve. I’m too alive to die. I’m too selfish to leave. I want more. I want to grow old. I want to watch my son become a man. To see my stepdaughter become a woman. I want so many things and…

The first call I made was to my mother. I sputtered andsobbed and when I finally let her speak, her voice was calm, yet oddly firm. Asif she’d known this day would come, as if she were looking that same demon inthe eyes once more, but this time she was fucking pissed.

“Mad. We’ve got this. It’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay.”

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