IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Watched My Brother Die Of Cancer and It Completely Changed My Whole Life

I used to be the salacious sex blogger Queerie Bradshaw, but after my brother's death I just couldn't do it anymore.
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Lauren Marie Fleming
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I used to be the salacious sex blogger Queerie Bradshaw, but after my brother's death I just couldn't do it anymore.
Trying to keep our sense of humor right before my brother had major surgery to remove a tumor from his jaw.

Trying to keep our sense of humor right before my brother had major surgery to remove a tumor from his jaw.

I used to treat life like a numbers game, tallying up the points in my head and comparing my score with those around me. Sex was no exception. People were a notch in my belt, our encounters a story to be told to whomever would listen.

In my second year of law school – another thing to check off my life’s to-do list – Curve magazine asked me to write a sex blog for them. Famous, scandalous sex blogger sounded more appealing than straight-laced lawyer, so I took the position and ran with it.

I called myself Queerie Bradshaw and fashioned my alter ego to be somewhere between debonair George Clooney and detached Shane McCutcheon – except I always ended up more like a mix between asshole Tucker Max and awkward Alice Pieszecki.

Queerie Bradshaw the conqueror.

Queerie Bradshaw the conqueror.

Sex blogging worked for me because I was a story whore. I craved my next fix, and with each encounter I escalated the odds. I was never really good at getting laid, but I was great at turning boring dates into scandalous adventures for my blog.

For a couple years, I was on top of the world. I spoke at prestigious universities and wrote for major publications, I slept with famous people and was on the guest list for porn shoots.

I got the fame I wanted. And then my brother got cancer.

I remember the day Andrew was born. It changed me, having a younger sibling, becoming the middle child. I remember trying so hard not to drop him, afraid I’d break this little being in my arms.

We always were goofballs.

We always were goofballs.

Yet, he was far from fragile. He was daring, strong, independent, athletic, smart, handsome, and the healthiest member of our family, which made his cancer diagnosis all the more shocking.

He had the kind of cancer you got if you were 70 and had chewed tobacco your whole life. Except he was 23 and had smoked only two cigarettes.

Cancer wasn’t new to my family. My father battled leukemia and my mother fought breast cancer. Both survived. We knew the routine, had the connections, and never thought my brother would die.

Even now, my brain cannot comprehend the loss. I watched him bleed to death in my mother’s arms. I called 911, pounded on the neighbor’s door, cried for help. I was there when they called the time of death, watched his body be placed into a thick black bag, saw him wheeled away, and yet still, I cannot believe it to be true.

About a year before Andrew’s death, I held my 85-year-old grandmother’s hand as she passed away, and a month after Andrew died, I sang to my grandfather as he ended his 91 years on this planet.

In the span of 18 months, I was slapped in the face three times with the horrible, gut-wrenching knowledge that everything is at once completely important and extremely irrelevant.

Everything I do feels pointless, because one day I too will break, I too am scarily fragile. Yet, because I am acutely aware of how quickly everything can end, each choice I make must be a substantial one, the weight of the brevity of life resting on every decision.

For a brief moment, I thought I could be a bigger, badder version of Queerie Bradshaw. I thought I could shut completely off and fuck my way around the world. I thought grief would make me numb enough to do all the things I’d been too emotionally sensitive to do before.

Then I tried it.

My alter-ego persona had occasionally felt inauthentic before, but now she was a downright lie. Less than that, she was a ghost, a wisp of an idea I’d once had about how to win at life.

Lauren the vulnerable, loving human being.

Lauren the vulnerable, loving human being.

Queerie Bradshaw was gone, and I didn’t know what to do with what was left of me.

I had no choice but to let go of the brand I’d spent years building. Professional acquaintances couldn’t believe I was letting a good thing go, they didn’t realize Queerie Bradshaw had been dead for awhile.

There is no escaping my extreme vulnerability now. My emotions are too large to be hidden. I either laugh uncontrollably or sob hysterically after each orgasm. I feel everything acutely. Life is personal.

I’ve rebuilt my personal and professional life based on that vulnerability, attempting to accept the darkness within me as much as I embraced the light that shone out of me before. Random sex with strangers still sounds fun in theory, but mostly I crave the strong, safe arms of my partner Alex, someone who met me at my lowest and has loved me through this major life transition.

Words of wisdom when I desperately needed them.

Words of wisdom when I desperately needed them.

Once, on a particularly sad day, I took a hike into the woods with Alex. There, I randomly found a Mary Oliver poem inscribed on a piece of wood, a poem that changed the way I viewed the world and became my mantra for living.

It read:

“When it's over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don't want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.”

These days, I don’t keep score. I don’t care if someone has had more sex than I have, visited more countries, made more money. There is freedom in no longer hiding behind what I thought the world wanted of me, relief in letting go of the pressure to be my persona.

All that matters is that I am making something particular and real out of my short time here.

As Queerie Bradshaw, I made my living telling salacious stories. Yet I feel so much more brazen and audacious writing the difficult truths I talk about now using my own name: Lauren Marie Fleming.