Looking for Cancer

I’m scared out of my mind. It’s not unexpected. I’ve been waiting for the news for years. Still, when I felt the tenderness in my breast a month ago I passed it off as a pulled muscle from weightlifting. I still tried to ignore it last week- told myself my breasts were just swollen from my impending period. But my husband felt it too during sex the other night. He moved the lump under my skin with the tips of his fingers, clearly troubled, and I had to stop pretending.

I find out tomorrow. A part of me already knows. As I sit here in McDonalds, across from my daughter, watching her stuff fries into her angelic face, I think of our limited time together. She runs off to the play structure and I wonder if she’ll remember me when I’m gone. She’s so young. I wonder how long she’ll miss me. I can’t help crying. People will see. I hide my face- stare down at the page.

It’s not death I fear. It’s the process of dying. I watched my mother grasp at every last second with each new experimental treatment while her body and her mind withered, and it was horrific. I’ll opt for chemo, even though I don’t want to. I’ll do it for my kids- model not quitting, to never give up. Show them to fight for life against all odds. I’ll lose my hair, my thick auburn waves- my one feature I’ve always been proud of. I’ll be sick and tired all the time and it’ll all be for naught- just like my mom. Six months, a year, even two, but the cancer will take me. Once it’s manifested in the system there is no stopping it.

It’s getting crowded in here now. Moms and dads with their kids eating Happy Meals celebrating life. I sit in the corner. I can’t stop the tears. My beautiful child comes running back to our table, her cheeks flush, her expression joyful. I’m afraid to look up, look in her eyes. She senses my fear. Her expression darkens. She asks me why I’m sad. I lie and say I’m not, tell her how beautiful I think she is. She hesitates, then smiles. She’s flattered but it falters as my eyes fill again. I’ve never been brave and I suck at pretending. I’ve let her down again.

There’s a woman staring at me. Her infant son sits on her lap trying to suck a shake up his straw. He stares too. They’re wondering what’s wrong with me. It’s more than just cancer. I can’t breathe. I can’t hold it together. I’ve never been able to hold it together. My daughter runs off to play, lost to the moment, lost from me. I stare down, and write.

I’ve never dared write about things that profoundly frighten me. The written word is so concrete, like casting a possibility into reality. I’m writing it down because it doesn’t matter. The foundation was laid years ago. The result of reckless behavior is inevitable. I’m writing it now because my fear is consuming me, and I don’t want to look up.

If I have it- I’ll deserve it. And if I don’t it’s just a reprieve. The bullet is coming at me. No doubt about it. I’m not being fatalistic. All those years of partying, smoking, six or more Diet Cokes a day, and of course genetics. I’m a realist. Nothing happens in a vacuum. I set this up with my obsession to be thin, and in. There’s no point in pondering if it was worth it. I’m scared out of my fucking mind.

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