Two Thousand Days Without Ana

The aftermath of childhood cancer

Jacqueline Dooley
Grief Book Club
Published in
10 min readSep 17, 2022

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Ana at age 15 — Photo by Author

A decade ago, on a bright Saturday morning in August, I took my 11-year-old daughter, Ana, to an emergency clinic. She had a terrible stomach ache. Something seemed wrong.

That morning, there was a stick bug on our car’s passenger door mirror. The bug stayed on the mirror for the entire 10-minute ride. We had laughed about it — Ana and I — and I took a picture and posted it to Facebook with the caption, “coolest bug ever!”

The clinic doctor examined Ana briefly, noted how she winced and recoiled when he gently touched her stomach, and advised me to take her to the hospital. I’d asked about appendicitis and he agreed it was a possibility.

Maybe the doctor knew it was something worse. He’d examined her stomach — bloated and hard — and offered to call an ambulance. A burst appendix is an emergency, but I was worried about how much the ambulance ride would cost. I drove her two miles to the hospital with the stick bug still clinging to the mirror.

And so it was that about five hours after I posted a photo of the stick bug to Facebook, our lives changed forever. That’s how quick it happens. That’s how hard the line was between before and after.

It haunts me — that car ride, the feeling that something was very wrong, the hope that it was just appendicitis and not something much worse.

And as move through yet another September, a month recognized around the world for childhood cancer awareness, it still haunts me.

A lifetime of missing

Childhood cancer leaves a trail of broken hearts. It leaves a lifetime of missing. For some of us — it leaves boxes of school work, drawings, and unfinished notebooks. The measure of a child’s life.

Cancer pulls your child deep into the bowels of hospitals and treatments and endless tests. Cancer is relentless. At least, Ana’s was.

She spent the first 40 days of the 2012 school year in the hospital. It was all of September — the month she should’ve been testing the waters of 6th grade.

It was in that foreign place with its white walls and sterile corners, that a surgeon showed me her tumor for the first time. He…

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Jacqueline Dooley
Grief Book Club

Essayist, content writer, bereaved parent. Bylines: Human Parts, GEN, Marker, OneZero, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Pulse, HuffPost, Longreads, Modern Loss