That last summer with her wasn’t anything like that.

There were no lazy days spent playing outside or curled up with Daddy reading the latest Harry Potter book. Instead, there were hospital rooms, heartache and the stifling stench of the cancer that filled the 13th floor of Northwestern Memorial Hospital.  In the middle of July, about a week after my 18th birthday, my Mama told my sister and me that she had cancer. As I sobbed uncontrollably, she soothed me and held me like she always did. She calmed my fears and promised me that everything would be ok. Two years later, nine days before I returned to college for my junior year, my Mama died. Five years have passed since that dreaded summer, so many of those memories have become hazy in my mind.

The time since her death has been filled with paperwork, lawyers, realtors, classes, degrees, and then of course Daddy. He never really told us that he was sick until it became quite obvious. His diagnosis must have come soon after Mama was gone; probably that winter. There was the surgery and then the trips back and forth to the hospital; he got thinner and thinner but was all the while singing and dancing like always. And suddenly there was no singing or dancing, it was just quiet.

Two years ago, in the middle of February, as I sat in my three-hour, graduate-level class, I received the call. Daddy was gone.

It’s a precarious state of mind, knowing that your loved ones are slipping away. We are all born with an expiration date, but rarely is it ever visible. Cancer, though, is unkind. It shines a glaring light on our mortality. That’s the thing about cancer, it’s like this mystical creature lurking around the perimeter of your life. Then, of course, it’s no longer satisfied with lurking — it’s only satisfied in striking and completely erasing the life that you once knew and leaving pain and emptiness in its wake. Suddenly your foundation crumbles and nothing is constant anymore.

I’ve lived the last few years of my life putting one foot in front of the other, fighting the lack of control in my life. Most millennials (I think) experience the same thing. The difference is that I couldn’t sit down. Instead I pressed forward, obtaining a higher-level degree, moving from one job to another, and generally just finding the strength to get out of bed in the morning.

My fear is that if I sit or pause, I may not be able to get up again.

However, as I reflect on everything that I’ve been through in years past, I begin to think a pause may actually be just the thing I need.

But no matter how I try to push on and move forward, cancer is never satisfied and always finds a way to worm itself back into my life. Some months ago I sat in my OBGYN’s office for my annual appointment. We’d spoken briefly the previous year about my family’s history and preventative measures that could be taken to ensure my health. My doctor suggested that I visit a geneticist to make sure that I wasn’t predisposed to any cancers. And if the test didn’t bring back the best news and I happened to predisposed to cancer after all, she ensured me that there were ways to get on top of it. Though from my vantage point, getting “on top of cancer” has never proved successful before. From what my sister and I recall, my mom was also tested for the genes and her tests came back negative. But that was years ago now, before Daddy’s diagnosis, and before the disease struck others on my family tree.

After making my appointment three months in advance, I made my way uptown to NY-Presbyterian to see a geneticist this past Monday. After spending an hour going over the test options and what they meant, I chose to take the “My Risks” test. Instead of just being screened for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 (breast cancer genes), I chose to get screened for a plethora of others as well. I made this choice because although my Daddy died from colon cancer, I don’t know much about his family’s medical history. My blood was drawn, and I was told they’d have my results in three weeks’ time. I was also informed what would happen if I received a negative, positive or ambiguous result.

So now, I wait. The days have once again gotten longer, the sun is shining and warmer days approach as I continue to push myself forward. And as I wake every day, readying myself for work, I think about all of those memories that my parents and I had together. I think about all the dreams that I have, and everything I want to accomplish.

I have realized that no matter what the outcome of this test, I have to do the things I was put on this earth to do. I have to dream bigger and do better things than I’ve been doing.

Everything I’ve been through, the funerals and the burials, the tears, the days, weeks and months in the hospital must have built me for something more.  I have to do these things now — not later with the expectation that I have plenty of time to do them. And I’ve learned this lesson the hard way; because you see, I never dreamed she’d leave in summer.