The first draft of my summer bucket list looks like a directory of local restaurants. You can probably relate. In summer 2020 we couldn’t visit any of our favorite eateries because COVID forced many establishments to close their dining rooms.

But that wasn’t the only thing that kept me from my favorite local haunts. In summer 2020, for me, most food tasted like metal or sand or made me sick to my stomach.

The second draft of my summer bucket list looks like a TBR log, a litany of literature.  You probably have a summer reading list, too. Quarantine reminds you how much you love getting lost in a good book. Last summer I used novels and nonfiction to escape the hum and the beeps of medical machines.

The next draft of my summer bucket list looks like a guest list as I write down the names of all the people I haven’t hugged in over a year. You probably have your own friends and family tour planned. But in summer 2020 I often wondered not when I’d see my loved ones again but if I’d see them again.

I spent summer 2020 going through chemotherapy to treat stage II breast cancer. And let me tell you— that summer bucket list hits differently when you’ve spent the previous summer fighting for your life

“You’re too young for cancer,” the nurses and lab techs would say. It’s true that women in their 20s and 30s account for less than five percent of breast cancer cases. But it’s the most common cancer for women in this age group.

Breast cancer is often diagnosed in its later stages for women under 40, which means the survival rate is lower and the recurrence rate is higher. And while Black women and White women get breast cancer at about the same rate, Black women die from breast cancer at a higher rate than White women. As a Black woman diagnosed in her 30s, breast cancer changed everything.

A bucket list is supposed to be a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket. Cancer forces you to take the bucket list back to its roots and ask yourself, “What would I do if this summer were my last?”

Even after your surgeon cuts the tumor from your body, even after your last dose of chemo and final round of radiation, cancer still sits on your shoulder, whispering in your ear, reminding you that life as you know it can end in an instant. So, you learn to take nothing and no one for granted.

This summer I will drive hundreds of miles to hug my friends and fly across the country so I can hold my niece for the first time.  I will see my parents’ faces without a mask and they will see mine.

This summer I won’t sweat the small stuff, but I will appreciate the little things. I don’t need trips to exotic lands. I just want to go to the movies and finally visit the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, Tennessee. I want to enjoy my summer reading without chemo fog clouding my brain.

After a summer with a constantly queasy belly and no taste buds, I will savor brunch and tacos and the occasional scoop of ice cream and I will not count a single calorie.

I will try that fitness class I keep seeing on Instagram – not to lose weight but because I’m glad to have the energy to move.

I will wear dresses with spaghetti straps and let the world see the battle scars that cancer and chemo left behind.

I will go to Orange Beach with my husband, slip on a swimsuit and not chastise my body for belly bulge or thighs that jiggle. I will honor it for staying alive against the odds.

While I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone, I do wish everyone could have something that pushes them to live and love with urgency. Whether you’re a cancer patient or not, tomorrow is not promised. So, act accordingly.

Wear a swimsuit. 

Take the trip.

Write the book. 

Start the business.

Love your people. 

Love yourself.


This feature was submitted by Javacia Harris Bowser

photo by Edward T. Bowser

Javacia Harris Bowser is an award-winning freelance journalist and the founder of See Jane Write, which a friend of hers once called “the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pens.” See Jane Write is a website and community for women who write and blog which she founded in 2011 in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. A proud graduate of the journalism programs at University of Alabama and the University of California at Berkeley, Bowser is the author of the forthcoming Find Your Way Back and the recipient of the art grant fellowship from the Alabama Council on the Arts. Connect on Instagram @SeeJavaciaWrite.



Featured Image by D. Jerome Smedley/BGrace Media