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Lucky Day
By Elisabeth R. Finch

I told her about my mother. I told her about the first time, and now this time, and how there isn't going to be a this time or next time for me, not if I can help it. One blood test would tell me if I had the mutated gene: BRCA1 or 2. I'd done the research. My insurance wouldn't cover it and I didn't give a shit. The test for the breast cancer gene was imperfect, but out there, and I wanted it. She looked at me like she was thinking of herself, like she had Issues, the way her eyebrows furrowed and she nodded too much.

Here I was, I thought I had time. I thought I could take it. I didn't want to be wrong.

Getting the test would be peace of mind, I assured her.

"Not always," she said, and waited for me to ask her to expound upon that pithy nugget of vagueness.

I didn't ask her to. I'd memorized every paragraph in every available article from NCI to Sloan-Kettering to Susan Komen. Test positive, you run the risk of being a poster child for fatalism. Test negative, Survivor Guilt so thick you can't see straight.

But I already knew that feeling all too well. The year my mom first got her "all clear," two close friends lost their mothers to cancer. The next year, when my duties as a Hollywood assistant unexpectedly included cancer research, I stayed late, put together packets and primers, and bought wig stands for people I barely knew. With everything I knew, I was powerless, helpless, and, ultimately, irrelevant.

"Survivor guilt isn't getting good test results," I told the nurse, unable to look her in the eye. "It's still having my mom when a two-year-old doesn't."

I looked up. She went back into the hall, spoke with the doctor in hushed tones. And she came back with three empty vials and a needle that I swear she just threw in out of spite.

Three weeks later, I stared into the doctor's fat, hairy face. I couldn't stop counting the pores on his nose.

"It's not a life sentence," he tried to assure me. I knew that. "You have options." I knew that, too.

The women in my family are already well versed in the modern definition of Women's Preventative Medicine. Two of my cousins had their kids by age 30 and cut out their uteruses on account of their mom. And aunt. Mom will take five years of tamoxifen, again, after her cancer clears.

I'm suddenly a percentile, a positive on a chart. Up to 87% chance I'll develop breast cancer and up to 44% chance for ovarian cancer in my lifetime. My mother's history is my present: Ashkenazi Jew, daughter of a woman with breast cancer, Hormone Replacement Therapy and fertility drugs that were pumped through her and possibly into me. I am my mother's daughter.

The fat doctor, I could tell, wanted me to cry. But I didn't. Not even after he told me I could consider having children soon, then opt for preventative bilateral mastectomy and oophorectomy before 35. One clear way to reduce the risk of getting "women's cancer" is to remove that which biologically (and socially) defines me as a woman.

I wanted to ask my doctor how fast he thought they'd come up with a pill or something if the only way to prevent prostate cancer was to cut off his penis. Instead, I smiled, I gave Nurse with Issues my co-pay, and I waited to say every curse word I could think of in every combination imaginable once I got into my car. (Windows rolled up.)

The rest of the day I spend driving around Los Angeles with nowhere to go. For fifteen minutes I let myself say the words "time" and "mastectomy" out loud. I let myself think about having children and not having children, and imagine scars, and picture a lame cartoon rain cloud looming over my head. And then I tell myself to shut the hell up, quit whining, and keep driving.

I do errands for my boss that can wait, and when he looks at me and asks me if I'm okay, and I say yes, he knows I'm lying and he lets me. I call automated tellers and pay my gas bill, my phone bill, my overdue credit card bill. I call the airline to settle frequent flyer mile issues. I call my friends and make dinner plans. I do not call my mother.

I keep driving. I hear every CD I have in my car, then I stop at the CD store, pick up Bob Dylan's "Oh Mercy," and blast songs about Love Gone Wrong.

I'm heading off the freeway, five minutes from my apartment, when I'm hit head on.

My car makes the same sound I did when I was six and pulled out my mom's old violin and started jack-rabbiting away on it. It takes me a minute to get my bearings. Stupid Dylan, I think, making me do something stupid. I get out of the car and check to see if I did anything wrong. The guy in front of me stumbles out of his Chevy pickup. He's drunk, pock-faced, and completely unaware he's just driven the wrong way onto a freeway off-ramp. He takes one look at my face, looks at my totaled car, gets in his truck, tosses two empty beer cans out of the window, and bolts away.

I stare at my phone for a minute or four. I don't call my mother. I don't call my boss for help. I don't call anyone to pick me up. I call the police.

Officer Frank tells me to cut my losses. People die from things like this all the time. It's the drunk guy's fault, sure, but there's no one to really blame.

It occurs to me that's exactly what I've been driving around for 12 hours looking for. And even now, I'm empty handed.

As he rides off, I dial my mom.

Car accident. Head on, drunk driver, no insurance, I tell her. I can hear her breathing on the other line, a little thin. She sounds like she always does, about two minutes before the Cytoxan gets to her and she needs to excuse herself to vomit.

"Lucky day."

"Did you not just hear me, Mom? Car is completely totaled."

"Let me call you right back." I wait three minutes on the side of the freeway, then call myself a cab. My phone rings again.

"I'm back. Call waiting." I know she's lying, and she knows I know, too. "Are you in the hospital?"

"No," I say.

"Do you have every limb you woke up with this morning still attached?"


"Are you on the phone with your mother speaking in full sentences?"

"Yes, Mom, I am."

"Lucky day. Go get yourself a nice sandwich."

I tell her about Officer Frank, the pock-marked evil man with beer cans at his feet, the new Dylan album I picked up in the clearance bin. I don't say a word about options or Nurses with Issues or test results. I don't cry to her about time. We have it. We take it.


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