High Heeled Mama Reads: Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

Colleen Oakley is an Atlanta-based journalist. I came across some local writers I stalk follow promoting the debut of her first novel, Before I Go and was intrigued. The book is currently only $1.99 for Kindle on Amazon (not an endorsement, just a fact), so I picked it up.

It’s a solid debut novel about a young woman, Daisy, diagnosed with terminal cancer. This Type A gal lives, and apparently plans to die, by her to-do lists. She throws herself into finding her husband a replacement wife for when she’s gone, feeling that the poor guy will be lost without someone to pick up his stinky socks and force him to eat more than cereal. While it gives her a purpose and structure to her suddenly aimless days as she faces the reality of life on a deadline that doesn’t include finishing her graduate degree, launching a career, fixing up her old home or having a family, she soon learns she might not be able to live with the repercussions of this decision.

It was a sad, oftentimes funny, interesting read and I enjoyed it.

Until the day after I finished it.

That following day, a former colleague announced that her breast cancer had returned. To her brain, lungs, liver, lymph nodes. She’s the same age as me. She has two young boys. She’s already endured this fight once before. And it all sounded too familiar to the book (relapse, spread) and sucked the air out of my “enjoyment” of it. Cancer is all too real. All too present in the lives of loved ones that I just couldn’t truly process my feelings about this story anymore. Particularly when her announcement came the same day another friend got the good news that her 8 year old’s routine MRI came back clean after fighting brain cancer multiple times in his short life.

Cancer is evil and random and cruel. It gives and it takes. It shape shifts and challenges and terrifies.

And, unfortunately, cancer is a reality that we all live with. No one is untouched. We all know someone. Lost someone. There’s no escaping it. Even in the pages of a book.

But in the pages of a book is where we deal. And sometimes laughing and crying about the lack of control we have on our lives as we live them not to mention our lives after we leave them behind through the eyes of a non-real-life person is just what the doctor ordered.

Bottom line? I think the book is a good read, I’d even go so far as recommend it as a good beach read (as strange as that feels to type). It just happened that the timing was off for me, souring my endorsement, censoring my pithy review. It’s one thing to read a book about a woman dying from cancer and “like” it, and another to turn around and see a real, flesh and blood woman announce to the world that she is reentering the ring for another fight.

Cancer sucks.

I’d give this one a 3.5 out of 5.

Next up, At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen.

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