Recently someone told Jackie Lee that he'd wished he gotten a chance to meet the singer's mother, LaDonna, who died two years ago Monday (June 4).

"I said, You wanna meet her?’" Lee recalls. "He looked at me strange and I gave him a big hug and said, 'That’s my mom.'”

The country singer — a 26-year-old, eight-year Nashville veteran and two-time cancer survivor — is a very good hugger. You notice it immediately, even if you've not had the opportunity since before the events of his last two years unfolded in painful, graphic fashion.

"I woke up one morning and on my pillowcase my beard was all over," he says, recalling his battle. "And I looked at it and I was like, ‘Dang!'"

Testicular cancer and surgery, the end of a longterm romantic relationship, cancer in his lymph system and chemotherapy, separation from his record label and the grief of losing your mother at such a young age ... How do you decide which grief to face first? There's no handbook.

“Every single day, it feels like it happened last night," Lee tells Taste of Country during this episode of Unfiltered. He's remembering the day his mother died. "I’ll never forget, we were on Charlotte Ave. and the toughest thing in my life was driving away from that place that night and being in the car with my family. I just remember feeling black out. I drove to my home in Mount Juliet (Tennessee) and we held each other all night long and that feels like it happened last night, every day."

Every day Lee something to honor his mom. That was easy during four months of chemotherapy in late 2017 and early 2018. He sat with LaDonna through a lot of her treatment, he says, and thought he had some idea what she was going through during a multi-year battle. He was wrong.

“What helped me is, I just really wanted to make her proud, because that’s how she raised me," Lee says. "She raised me to be tough. She raised me to be respectable. And when life throws bad stuff at you, you deal with it.”

Today, there will be tears as he gets together with his dad, brother and little sister, but it's not going to be more painful than normal, because every day is extraordinarily painful. If there was a self-pity stage, Lee is beyond it. All these memories come and his eyes water, but he offers plenty of smiles during a vulnerable conversation about what he's been through and what's to come.

He shared his cancer journey in a revealing music video for a song called "Long Year" last month, and continues with a new song called "Comeback" that honors his mom. Words on a yellow Post-It note seen in the music video are LaDonna's words.

“Your setback is a setup for a comeback,” she wrote before she died. That's good advice for a survivor who is beginning his next chapter in life. His brother found the note as he was going through hundreds of notes she'd posted all over the house during her battle.

"It was the most visible sign, I feel, from God that I've ever seen in my life ... that what we were doing was on the right track," Lee says.

Taste of Country Unfiltered is a regular YouTube series that shares the most vulnerable stories shaping country music stars like Brantley Gilbert, Montgomery Gentry and newcomer Walker Hayes. Subscribe to Taste of Country's YouTube channel for more and for regular interviews with country music's biggest stars.

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