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Expectations

“Expectations are a funny thing…sometimes they surpass your greatest dreams, sometimes they crush them. Both remind us that God is still in control.” I had written that statement many years ago when we were going through a really turbulent time with our son. By turbulent, I mean volatile, life threatening, polarizing kind of stuff. I was angry with God and fought with Him on a daily basis. “Fix him!” I would scream. “How can it not be the best way to glorify Yourself, but to fix him?” I couldn’t understand it, I still don’t. My prayer became if you won’t fix him, then please keep him alive until he figures it out.

We felt like we were on an island, we were full of shame because we believed our son’s struggles were some how created by choices we had made, things we did or did’t do. That was a lie straight from the devil, but it served his purpose. It kept us isolated, out of church and fearful of sharing what we were going through with almost anyone. I did ask strangers to pray for him though, anyone that I could hold captive for 3 or more minutes would hear some version of what we were going through and I would ask them to pray for him. I was searching for someone that God loved enough to answer their prayer. I thought that God didn’t answer my prayers, not because he knew what was best for us, but because he didn’t love me enough to answer my prayer. I was convinced that I was un-lovable. That was another lie the enemy used to paralyze me.

I was convinced that he would never be “fixed.” I was standing in the yard one day picking up sticks and flinging them into the woods as I was having another heated conversation with my heavenly Father. I asked him how he would feel if I turned my back on him, and made him feel alone and abandoned, and in the voice you can only hear inside your head, His response was “If you turned your back on me, I would just spoon you from behind, I would hug you and hold you and never let you go, just like I always have and always will”.

I knew he was right. I just wanted to be angry at someone that would let me get it away with it. I was just another person in this ungrateful world using Christ as a whipping post.

Fast forward a decade and I’m standing in my yard, with our son. He has overcome more obstacles than I’ve ever had to face, he is helping us spread mulch, telling us about his weekend and about the house he’ll be renting soon. I can’t help but think about that quote about expectations again. Only this time, they have surpassed my greatest dreams. He was kept alive until he figured it out. He still has a few demons he’s chasing down and We still prayer for him earnestly but he is a better man than we thought we’d ever live to see. God is good, all the time, yes ALL the time.

As a side note, I did have to have some come to Jesus moments myself, like asking for my own forgiveness for ever doubting God’s love for me, and forgiveness for doubting that He knew what was best for us and that it was my son’s free will (as he had told us many times himself) not God’s lack of doing something that put him where he was.

There were many days I knew God was spooning me, hugging me from my back turned away from him and I’m so grateful he did. Expectations are a peculiar thing indeed. I have learned it is better to expect “great things” and be wrong, then to expect “crushing things” and be right.

 

 

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Mother’s & Daughters

I long for the mother/daughter relationship of lifetime movies and TLC shows. You know, the ones with lines like, “My mom is my best friend!”, “My daughter invites me to everything!” But that is not always my reality. My daughter and I each have our own lives, friends, jobs, spouses, responsibilities, etc and we like it that way. However, I always want her to need me, and even more, want me in her life.

She called me last week and was overly stressed out (rightfully so) after dropping off her 4 month month old baby at day care for the first time and finding it under-staffed and unorganized. Sobbing she expressed her frustration and shared the myriad of conversations and interactions she had with the Director of the day care, ad nauseam. My daughter is very analytical, she is very much like me, her mother. Sometimes I teasingly compare us to cows, you know how they have multiple stomachs and will chew their food for awhile, swallow it, bring it back up and do it again, over and over? That’s kind of what she and I  do with the things that are bothering us. After listening for what I perceived to be a reasonable and patient amount of time, and giving a number of well thought out suggestions, I said, “I’m not sure what you want me to do about it, you keep repeating the same things over and over and I feel like you expect me to have a new answer or to fix it and I really don’t know what else to do or say.” Mother of the year award! Crushed it! Not! I could tell she was slightly annoyed, maybe even hurt,. I wasn’t trying to be unkind I just truly didn’t know what else to say or do,  but shutting up and continuing to listen would’ve been the wiser choice.

A few days later on Facebook, I saw that she had tagged me in a post, hurriedly I scrolled through my account, certain it was the latest in a series of adorable photos of one of my grandchildren, but it was not. It was a photo though, of a Disney type mother and daughter, it read,

“Did you know?
Talking to your mother , has the same effect as a hug and can help reduce stress levels. The sound of her voice release oxytocin and is a great stress reliever.”

Below that, she had written, ” this is why I keep calling you to say the same thing over and over.” Ugh, I was crushed and quickly responded,  “From the bottom of my heart I hope and and pray that you never ever stop doing that. I’m sorry if I made you think for a moment that I didn’t want to be there for any conversation you want or need to have with me. I love you!” To which, she simply replied, “I know” followed by 3 hearts.

End scene! Just like the Lifetime movies, we had resolved our conflict. Her message to me on Facebook was both humbling and reassuring that my daughter not only needs me in her life, but wants me there too!

The list of possibilities

When you have aches and pains, especially as you get holder, you think, “well, I’m just getting older.” Occasionally I’ll get up in the morning and stretch like a big grizzly bear that’s been hibernating for months, and I kid you not, next thing I know, I’m wincing in pain from pulling a muscle.
But when you are a cancer survivor, sometimes those aches and pains, that aren’t explainable, can cause you go to the other list of possibilities..

I can tell you though with sincere honesty, its not the first place I go to. I’m very active, I walk 3-4 miles, 3-4 times a week. I take 4 mile+ hikes, I ride bikes, I rearrange entire rooms of furniture, I clean floors, I climb onto the roof, you get the picture. So when I have aches and pains, there’s usually a good reason. But when it doesn’t go away, and I feel like I’ve exhausted all the possibilities, then I go there…”what if my cancer is back, or even worse what if it has metastasized? Its a terrifying prospect, but it is a possibility.

Metastasize is when the cancer that you had, decides to hide in another area of your body and when you least expect it, likes to jump out and scare the hell out of you.  Like a surprise party after you’ve been cleaning toilets and haven’t had a shower in 2 days.

I know a few people that have had multiple cancer diagnosis. I do not know many that have survived very long with metastatic cancer. It always makes me cringe when I hear, “this is the 3rd time for me” of 4th or 5th. It just feels unreasonably unfair. Then I’m reminded of what unfair really is. Unfair is Christ on the cross, for sins he never committed, unfair is the separation from God he endured for my sake, unfair is all that He bore, so I wouldn’t have to.

So whats a survivor to do? For me, I run to the word. I am constantly redirecting my thoughts towards what the word says. Phil 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything with prayer and supplication make your requests known to God. Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you;  do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. And one of my favorites, Phil 4:8  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. This verse will not allow me to consider the “what if’s”. It will not allow me to stay in a depressed state, it will not let my thoughts crush my spirit, especially when I don’t have all the answers yet. All of these verses help to calm me, to clear my mind, to trust in my Father who wants the best for me and to open my heart and soul to deep prayer, deep conversation, and deep pleading, with my Heavenly Father.

The list of possibilities can be scary.  They can also be an opportunity, to love God and in peace, faith and stillness, to trust his plan for my life.

 

Chapter 3 & 4 Second Chances- By Beth Ritter

3

Justine was surprised when she awoke and seemed to have no pain. Instinctively she raised her hand to feel where her breasts had been. Strange, she couldn’t feel her own touch; pressure sort of, but no real feeling. It was odd to her too, because there was virtually nothing there. The bandages added some bulk, but it was noticeably different. Fluttering her eyes open she tried to focus on her surroundings, realizing what or rather who she was looking at. “Hi” Justine says to her sister who is hovering about two inches above her nose. “What are you doing?” Ginny says in her silliest sister voice. “Wanna go exercise?”

Trying not to laugh, Justine cradles herself with her arms, “Oh, don’t make me laugh; it’ll hurt when I laugh.” Collecting herself, she asks, “What time is it?” “Its 8:30 in the morning, Ginny replies, as she strokes her matted hair. “How are you feeling?” “I feel okay. Have you heard anything, has the doctor been by?” “Yep”, Ginny says, grinning that toothy grin of hers. “Nothing in your lymph nodes and nothing she wasn’t expecting, so as of today, you are officially free of disease!” “Wow.” Justine ponders that for a moment. “That’s it? Really? That’s um, that’s great, she murmurs in disbelief.

“And you know what else today is? It’s May 5th, Cinco De Mayo day baby, and now it’s your independence day too!” “Well then.” Justine says, let’s find me some panties and go celebrate!” “Okay, just give me one second,” Ginny says as she pulls out her phone. “Alright, but who are you calling?” “Not calling anyone, she says with a giggle. “I’m posting that statement you just made about your panties on Facebook. People have been messaging me all night, asking me how you’re doing, and this ought to sum it up for them!” Before Justine could protest, Ginny declared, “there, posted.” “Oh jeez! Thanks a lot!” Justine snarks with a roll of her eyes.
Though she was quite ready in her mind to hit the ground running, some procedures had to be followed before Justine could actually leave. Using the restroom, being unhooked from the IV, getting clearance from the doctor, it all took some time. Anymore they didn’t keep you in the hospital any longer than necessary. If you felt well enough to leave, they were glad to see you go, and Justine was ready to go. Her Doctor had given her all the standard instructions, don’t shower for a few days, don’t lift anything heavy or raise your arms above your shoulders, keep the compression bra on (a lovely contraption echoing back to the corsets of days gone by) and most importantly… when she was ready, to take a look at her breasts or rather what had been her breasts. Her doctor reminded her that it was Justine’s own advocacy that found the cancer in the first place and that role had not changed. If something didn’t seem, look or feel right, she needed to let the doctor know, which meant, she would have to look. Within 24 hours she was given the green light to go. As Justine and Ginny made their way out of the hospital and into her brave new world, she feels incredibly self-conscious. She is convinced that people must know. They must be able to tell just by looking at her that she had this dis-figuring, de-womanizing procedure. In her mind she felt so insecure that she believed her flat chest was all anyone saw when they looked at her and the shallowness of her thoughts saddened her. Is that what I would be thinking or feeling about someone if it wasn’t me in this chair? She adjusted her attitude and reminded herself to be grateful. She knew she would have to remind herself of that many more times in the coming days. She leaned her head back and smiled up at her sister pushing her along in the wheelchair. Returning her sisters gaze, Ginny chirps, “I adore you.” And Justine echo’s the same. The ride home was slightly uncomfortable, Justine felt every bump and the seatbelt seemed to be rubbing across the area of her incisions, even though she couldn’t feel it, it bothered her. On the ride into the hospital Justine had such a peace, and now when it seemed she should be feeling calmer with the surgery behind her, she was anxious. Anxious about everything. Pulling onto her street she feels herself relax a bit.

Home. It was so good to be home, it felt like she had been gone for a week not just 24 hours. Pulling into the driveway, she noticed that something was different or rather she noticed an addition. On the deck was a cozy looking 3 person swing with a country floral canopy on the top of it.

“Where did that come from?” she asked, looking at her sister. “How would I know?” Ginny said with some sisterly sarcasm. She hadn’t left her side for 2 days and had gotten very little rest. Attempting to sleep in a chair in Justine’s room, only to be shown in the morning that it actually opened up into a bed, How frustrating is that?, she thought to herself.

Walking up the steps to the deck Justine saw the sweet pink bow with a card attached, opening it up and reading.
Dear Justine, -You are now a breast cancer survivor. You will identify with the color pink in a way that you never did before. You are part of an elite group of women (and men) that have overcome something very harrowing. We will continue to pray for you, support you, love you and help you in any way we can. God bless you as you continue to recover. -With love, your church family.

As she sat down and began to swing she was struck by the realization that there were so many people who really cared about what happened to her, and even though she didn’t have a family of her own yet, she did in fact have a family of her own. What lay before her seemed a little bit more manageable knowing she had all that support. As she tried to get up, she quickly sensed she was going to have to take things a little slower than she was used to. “Oh, ouch, ooh hey, I think I’m going to need a little help here.” As her sister raised her to her feet and helped Justine make her way, again she was reminded of how grateful she was to have her Ginny here. They walked into the house and Justine started towards the kitchen to get a drink, unconsciously trying to keep the upper part of her arms tight and close to her ribs so as not to hurt anything, she glances over and see’s that her sister is laughing at her.

“What’s so funny?” she says. “You look like the tyrannosaurus Rex from the Jurassic movie, with those tiny little arms!” Ginny starts screeching like Godzilla in one of those old Japanese films, mimicking her, turning from side to side like she’s knocking down buildings and swatting at planes. She looks hilarious and now Justine is laughing too. Teetering somewhere between caution and hysteria, she asks, “well what am I supposed to do? It feels so strange, like I can’t lift my arms normally.”

“What you do, she says, lift your arms straight out till they are fully extended, kind of like Frankenstein, see?” Justine watches the demonstration intently. “Really?” she asks, confusion written all over her face. “Try it.” Ginny encourages. Copying exactly what she witnesses her sister do moments before she was amazed at the ease with which it accomplished her task. “Wow, thank you, she says. “You know you wouldn’t have known how to do that if you hadn’t also gone through this.” “Well there are some things you wish you never had to teach your little sister, and this would be at the top of that list.” “I totally understand,” she sighs as she lifts her arms up like some odd mummy and gets a glass out of the cupboard. Though it is early Justine decides to head to bed, between the pain medicine and sheer exhaustion, sleep seems to her only option.

Justine awakens the next morning feeling a little sore but nothing she can’t manage. What she is feeling is very encumbered by the drains. Finding them more annoying than the surgery itself, she looks at them with disdain, stinking drains, I’ll never last 2 weeks with these things. It was a necessity to the process; she knew that and had recalled her doctor saying that once they removed them and she had healed some, they could begin filling her implants. She wonders what she looks like. Clearly she can feel the difference even though she is still bandaged. She is certain it will be awhile before she can really look at herself and she isn’t in any hurry to do so. Her thoughts are interrupted as Ginny comes into the room, already dressed for the day, TV tray in hand, with fresh coffee, wheat toast and peach preserves.

“Climb on in,” Justine encourages as Ginny has already begun to crawl across the bed on her knees, precariously balancing the tray. Justine fears she is going to have peach preserves, one way or another, either on her toast or on her night gown. Pleasantly neither occurs.

“What are you thinking about?” Ginny asks. Her sister always had the ability to know when she was lost in thought. For most of their adult life people had thought they were twins. Though they were four years apart, they loved the reference and took it as a compliment. “Actually I’m thinking about what I look like under all this.”

Setting down the tray, Ginny grabs and throws back the corner of the blanket and says, “Well then let’s find out!” “No!” Justine shouts. “No!” reaching for the blanket and hastily pulling it back up. “What do you mean, no? You have to look at yourself sometime.” “I know I do, and when I’m ready, I will, but not yet.”

Justine runs her hands through her hair and it stops midway through all the knots and the need to be washed. “Wanna get a shower?” Ginny asks as she cocks her head to the side and nods toward the direction of the bathroom, almost willing her into it. “I would love to, do you think you could help me?” “Of course, she says, c’mon.”

As her sister helps her undress Justine is mindful not to look in the mirror. She just can’t bring herself to do it, certain that she looks like some freakish alien reminiscent of the ET character in the movie of the same name. Skeletal, flat, shredded. She just can’t look yet and feels like she and her sister are putting too much pressure on her right now to try and deal with that. Stepping into the shower the water brings a sense of normalcy back into her life. A “new” normal, as the staff at the hospital called it. She was really quite happy with her old normal, not so sure how she felt about this “new” normal. Momentarily forgetting her sister’s advice, she attempts to raise her arms above her head to wash her hair. There’s that tyrannosaurus Rex again move again. “Ugh” she winces and takes in a hissing breath. “Hey, how’s it going in there? Do you need my help? Can I shampoo your hair for you?”

Justine pauses for a second, “Would you mind?” Before she can barely get the words out Ginny has stepped into the shower behind her, completely dressed and is reaching for the shampoo.

“What are you doing?” Justine says, half laughing, half puzzled as she is moving to make room for her. “Well you didn’t think I was gonna get in here all naked, did you?” “I don’t really know what I thought, but now that you’re in here, have at it!” As the suds roll down her body she feels like a world of worry and care are washing away with them. It feels amazing to be standing in the shower having her hair washed, especially by her sister. Justine remembers the years spent playing with Ginny, begging her to sing one more chorus of the cuckoo bird song, begging her to let her tag along with her friends, begging Ginny to love her as much as she loved her. Ginny grabs a bar of soap and a wash-cloth and begins scrubbing Justine’s back; it feels incredible, almost therapeutic, she is humbled by Ginny’s selflessness and all the kindnesses she has shown her. She wished she could have been there to help Ginny when she went through all of this. Newly married, no family around, it had to be so hard. Justine had flown out one time to see her for a few days, just to reassure herself that her sister was going to be okay. She wasn’t convinced of that when she left to come back home, but as the years clicked by it was easier to breathe a sigh of relief. Grateful for the water camouflaging her tears she says, “Thank you Ginny. Thank you for being here, thank you for loving me as much as I love you.” “You’re so welcome; I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Shower finished, her rinse and towel dried, Ginny helps Justine into another comfortable outfit that they had bought on their previous “exercising” expedition and asks her how she’s feeling. Justine breathes out a long relaxed heavy sigh and tells her that she feels so much better now that she has had a shower. “Almost human again, can you brush my hair out for me?”

4

Ginny directs Justine to a chair, standing behind her she begins to brush her hair.

“This is something you really won’t be able to do too well for a few weeks,” Ginny says. “Well I guess you’ll just have to stay here longer.” “You have always had the best hair. Are you worried about losing it?” “No,” Justine replies half-heartedly, “not really, I guess I just realize its part of the deal.” “Hmm, I’ve always hated that I got the thin hair, short legs and the ability to retain not some, but all of my baby fat and you are tall and thin and perfect.”
Rolling her eyes at her big sister, Justine reflects out loud. “All I know is that as far back as I can remember I have always wanted to be just like you. I loved all your hand me downs, the strawberry perfume you wore, the way you wore your hair and the way all the guys just swooned over you.”

“Oh whatever.” Ginny says as she smiles down at her little sister and tries to find something to distract herself. She’s heard these things a thousand times, but never really heard them. She’s always been unaware-not insecure, but unaware–of how beautiful she really is, which made her even more appealing. And now, more than ever, Justine wanted to be just like her. She wanted to be ten years down the road and free of cancer. She wanted all this to be a part of her past and not so much a part of her future, and she wanted to survive. More than anything she wanted to survive.

As Justine sits in a state of complete relaxation she contemplates broaching the subject of children with Ginny. Justine had wondered how Ginny would feel about her having some of her eggs frozen before she began her chemotherapy. Being aware that her sister’s treatment caused her to be forced through menopause way before it was time and before she was able to have any children, she didn’t want to be the cause of another unpleasant “what if” situation for her sister. Justine wanted to be mindful of her but she also wanted to learn from her experience. Though Justine had never been in a long term relationship she didn’t want to rule out the possibility of meeting someone that may want to have kids. She knew whoever that was, would have enough to deal with just being with her, without having to add being barren to the mix.

“What are you thinking about?” Ginny asked with a lilt in her voice. Justine smiled and asked, “How do you always know?” “It’s a sister thing you know, twins, “as she motions between the two of them with her index and middle fingers. “So what’s on your mind?” “Honestly? Babies. I think I want to have a few eggs frozen before I start my treatments. That way, if I meet someone that would like to have children with me, I’ll have some options.”

Ginny’s face lit up. “I’m so glad you brought that up. I didn’t know how to approach you about it, but I think it’s a wonderful idea!” “You do?” Justine gushed. “Of course I do! At the very least I would love to be an Aunty. Can you imagine the “spoilage I could inflict on your child? It would be heavenly. She could spend summers with me and I could teach her to drive, gasping excitedly. “I would be her favorite Aunty!”

Justine was so relieved at Ginny’s response. “I spoke with my doctor about it and I’m scheduled to have a port put in on my first day of chemotherapy. It makes it easier to get all my meds, blood draws and everything through that, as opposed to being stuck every time, several times. My doctor said they could harvest my eggs at that time, since I have to be given a light anesthesia anyway and since you’ve already got me pegged as having a girl, I really want to do it.”

“Oh Justine, I’m so grateful, that you seem to be in such good hands and that you have thought so much of this through. I just know everything is going to be okay and I know in my heart that there is a Prince Charming out there for you. It’s so like you to be thinking about that person before you’ve even met him. Guess that’s why I adore you so much.” “Probably more like a court jester than a Prince Charming, Justine jokes, but I’ll take him none the less! And I adore you more.”

The next few days are spent watching America’s funniest videos, painting each other’s nails and preparing food for the days ahead when Justine won’t have the luxury of having Ginny around. Though Justine was grateful for all that Ginny had been able to do for her she found herself missing her best friend. She didn’t want to mention that or take away from the time she and her sister had shared, but she was missing Dee terribly. Ginny had sacrificed so much to be with Justine these last few days; she didn’t want to minimize how great a gift that was. However, it was comforting to know that Dee would be stepping right in where Ginny left off. They had hoped to all get together before Ginny left, but it wasn’t looking like that was going to happen. It wouldn’t be the same as having her sister, but it was a darn good close second. Justine only had one wish left on her list to do before Ginny left; we’ve just got to get in one more “exercising” trip. Coming downstairs in her oversized jogging suit she had slipped the drains into the pockets of her jacket, over that she had put on a very large sweater. “Look”, Justine says, “no one will even be able to tell that I have these things in, let’s go “exercise” one last time!” Quicker than you can call “shotgun”, Ginny grabbed the car keys, ran to the door and hit the garage door opener.

“Wait for me!” Justine shouts as she shuffles towards the garage like the Mr. Wiggins character from the old Carol Burnett show. Embarrassed by her enthusiasm Ginny rushes back to her sister’s side, taking Justine by the arm, she steadies her as they depart for the “gym.”

Unbelievably, Justine is back at the airport. It seemed like she just picked up Ginny a few days before, and yet it seemed like a lifetime ago. Justine has cried more today than she had since her diagnosis. Her sister has slipped into obscurity through the security gates and she can no longer see her. As Justine is walking away, she faintly hears in the distance, “Wait, wait!” As she turns to see Ginny barreling back out of the security area, she is fearful of a replay of ten days ago when Ginny wound up plastered on the airport floor. Running to her and wrapping her arms around Ginny one more time, they are both crying. Through broken sobs Ginny says, “Remember how if we had a plan to see each other again it didn’t feel like good-bye, it just felt like I’ll see you soon?” “Yes, I remember, Wh what are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that I’ll come back!” I can come back and we can go to the beach for a few days. I say we start planning right away!”

“Yes!” Justine exclaims, as they both reach up and put their hands to each other’s cheeks to wipe the tears away.

“I feel a little guilty. I’m not sure I could let you come back here so soon for me. Are you sure you can?”

“I’ll make it happen, you make the arrangements for, say July or August and we’ll go to the beach!”

Their hearts are lighter already. Justine picks up Ginny’s bag from the floor, hugs her once more and begins mentally planning right then. As she is heading out the airport doors, she hears her sister yelling again,

“Wait, wait!”

Although Justine adores Ginny as much as she adores her, she finds herself thinking, really, again, we’re never going to get to our respective homes if she keeps calling me back.

“You have my bag!” she shouts. Sheepishly reaching for the strap on her shoulder, she runs to her, and hands it back. The exchange embraces and “I love you’s” one more time and Ginny encourages Justine to call her as soon as she takes a look at herself. “You need to know Justine. If anything changes, if something doesn’t look right or gets infected, you have to have a reference point, so you know everything is going as it should. Promise me that you will look at yourself.”

“I will, I promise” she says, although she didn’t promise when she would, she just promised that she would. Justine takes a deep cleansing breath and says to herself, God; I am so blessed, thank you for my sister and thank you for second chances

Chapter 2 Second chances by Beth Ritter

2

Standing in the lobby of the airport, Justine is filled with a mixture of joy and sorrow. Seeing her sister for almost any reason is pure joy, but for this particular reason, she’d take a pass. Justine knows this is going to be a tough visit and she is already struggling to keep the tears at bay. There is an unspoken understanding between women, let alone sisters who have had breast cancer, and even though she has always wanted to be just like her big sister, this is one time when she would rather not take after her. Southwest airlines has always been their airline of choice. It seemed to be the cheapest and since there are no seat assignments, they could try to find a seat close to the front and to be the first one off. They were always looking down the escalator, around the corner, up the stairs, whatever it took to see each other as quickly as possible. Running into each other’s arms, they would literally be smiling for the next 45 minutes, catching up and reminiscing about whatever they hadn’t discussed in the numerous phone calls exchanged that week. Even though Ginny lived on the West coast and Justine was on the East, there was rarely a day that went by when they didn’t talk to each other at least once.

Knowing that the plane has landed, Justine is craning her neck to see her sister, as she comes barreling past the “Do not enter” sign at the end of the terminal and past the security guards. Ginny is already sobbing and Justine begins to cry as well as that unspoken understanding crests to the surface. Through the tears Justine can still see Ginny running towards her. Her carryon luggage swinging from around her neck, her purse over her shoulder, magazines under her one arm, and snacks under the other when suddenly out of nowhere and almost as if in slow motion, Ginny stumbles. Knowing this is not going to end well, Justine braces herself for the worst. Growing up Ginny was often breaking, spraining, fracturing, tearing, bruising or bleeding somewhere on her person on a regular basis. Their mom used to say they kept Ginny’s medical charts on the counter at the dispensary on the naval base in town. They even knew her by name, well add another one to the scrapbook, Justine finds herself thinking. As she watches helplessly, the contents of Ginny’s purse scatter everywhere as she’s falling. The magazines she had been cradling under her arm shoot across the terminal like some wild hockey puck. And then she is prostrate on the floor with her face buried in her now open carryon bag. As Justine rushes to her, horrified that she may be hurt, Ginny lifts her head, revealing two Cheetos and an Emory board that are stuck to her face.

“I’m okay!” she shouts with satirical humor.

Justine tries with everything in her not to smile but it’s beyond her control. As she bends down to help her sister, laughter bellows out of her.

“Are you okay?” Justine stammers. By now Ginny is also roaring with laughter and it is turning into coughs and gasps for air. Ginny rolls over onto her back and just lets the humor of the situation take over. Lowering herself onto the floor to join her they are no longer in the middle of the airport being stared at from every angle. It’s as if they are transported to a place where only the two of them exist. No one is running for planes, no one is leaving or picking up loved ones, no one is asking them if they’re okay. There is just Justine and her big sister wrapped around each other like two best friends on the playground, laughing and trying desperately to catch their breath. It felt so good, so normal, so like sisters.

The next few days are a bit of a cluster, visiting family, preparing meals, taking care of pre-ops and of course, “exercising”, (code word for shopping). After all, Justine had to have something cute to wear home from the hospital. They found a comfy terry cloth jumpsuit, with elastic in the waistband and a zipper down the front for easy access and removability. Now all that was left to do was wait. Ginny saw an opportunity that afternoon while sitting outside to ask some sensitive questions.

“Have you thought about reconstruction?” “I have” Justine replies, smiling broadly and saying, “I’ll take some C’s please.” “Well, what are you now?” “Now, I am a “low C”, she says and motions in the vicinity of her navel, “not quite as perky as I once was.” “But when all is said and done, I’ll be a “high C”, as she motions with her hands in the vicinity of her collar bone, “way more perky than I have ever been!” “Well you go girl!”

“I know right!? I might as well get something out of this.”

As Justine goes into the detail about the lengthy procedure, it’s as if she is talking about someone else, it’s all so clinical, and she is completely disconnected, no emotion whatsoever. She explains that she discussed several options with her plastic surgeon, some more invasive than others, but ultimately opting for expanders, a slow process where they insert an empty thick plastic implant behind the muscle of your breast and over a period of a few months, they add small amounts of saline. It’s done directly through your skin but isn’t felt because all of the nerves have been removed. Once your desired size has been reached they reopen through the same incisions, take out the expanders and replace them with the silicone implants. “They make it all sound so easy, but I’ve been told it can be quite uncomfortable.” “Wow, it sounds amazing though. Things sure have come a long way since I had my surgery!” Recognizing the sadness in Ginny’s voice, Justine is careful to be sensitive. She has known for a long time that Ginny had hoped for better results then she had received.

“Maybe you can talk to my plastic surgeon?” “No”, she says with a heavy sigh. “I’ve talked to several doctors and they’ve all said there is nothing more they can do for me. It is what it is and honestly, I’m just happy to be here.” “I’m very happy for that too,” Justine says as she reaches over and squeezes Ginny’s hand.

Surgery is scheduled for early the next morning and Justine is amazed that she actually sleeps the night before. She had long been a believer in the power of prayer but as she went on this journey, she was getting unusual opportunities to experience it. Sleeping the night before surgery was just another example of that power. She knew her church family, her own family and her best friend had been praying for her since her diagnosis. Praying for peace, for healing, for everything she would need. And she could really feel their prayers.

The drive into the hospital was predominantly quiet and Justine was surprised that her anxiety level was inconceivably low. There was small conversation about things she and Ginny wanted to do before she returned home and up until Justine was called back into the pre-op area she had been remarkably brave. However as she sat down next to the admitting nurse, a large African American man who would set up her I.V line, all that began to change when he asked,

“What brings you in today young lady?” It was almost as if his question catapulted her into a reality check, and the reality of why she was here. Justine looked down at her hands folded in her lap, felt that familiar stinging in the back of her throat and eyes and quietly said,

“A double mastectomy.”

He took her hands from her lap and cradled them in his big strong hands, patting them and saying, “It’s all going to be alright.”

How do all these people know that it’s going to be alright, or is that just the phrase of the day to pacify someone?

Regardless, she found comfort in his words and his touch gave her a sense of security and humanity.

He finished what was needed to prep Justine and handed her a hospital gown to change into. When she emerged from the changing area in the short gown and slip resistant socks, he helped her settle on the hospital bed, placing a warm blanket over her now-chilled legs.

Abruptly the curtain that was used to create a false sense of privacy was flung open, screeching on the metal rod that supported it, the noise was so jarring it caused Justine to clutch her chest in fear as if someone had come at her before she was ready. “Hey now, said the anesthesiologist, I didn’t mean to startle you so bad.” Her entrance created a lasting first impression in Justine’s mind. A no nonsense kind of woman in a brightly colored scrub top and black patent leather nursing shoes. Loving people that lived and enjoyed life were right up Justine’s alley, and she seemed like that kind of person. Justine decided she was just the kind of gal she would want taking care of her. On her head she wore an outrageous surgical cap, gesturing towards the cap with the pen in her hand she says, “take a good look sweetie, this is the last thing you’re gonna see before I knock you out.” Realizing her patient was not seeing the humor in her statements, she quickly adjusted her approach. Kneeling next to the chair and placing her hand on Justine’s knee she asked, “How you doing doll?”

“I’m a little nervous, but I think you’ll do just fine.”

Laughing deeply the anesthesiologist replied, “well that’s a first, no one has ever told me that I’d do just fine, but as for those nerves, well were gonna take care of that right now. I’m gonna give you a little something to cool your jets.”

“Ok, bring it on”, Justine said through a ragged sigh and it was the last thing she remembered stuttering as she slipped into the most restful sleep she was likely to have for next few days, or even weeks.

Second Chances by Beth Ritter

For a good decade I have wanted to write professionally. Whether I doubted my ability or felt insecure about my subject matter, whether I was too busy or had too much time on my hands, something always kept me from pursuing my dream, until now. About 4 years ago I wrote  a book. A whole book, with a beginning, a middle and an end. With a conflict, a climax and a conclusion. But it needed editing, so it had been shelved yet again. I have let insecurities and excuses keep me from making the editing corrections that needed to be done. Having never completed college and being uncertain about proper writing techniques also weighed heavily on me. Until now. I’ve decided to share my book in a different way then I originally intended. The dream was to have it published, but it has evolved into just wanting it to be read. So each week I will be releasing, a few pages, a chapter or two, whatever I get edited and feel good about sharing, eventually, the whole story. My hope is that you’ll read along as I share my story. It is a fictional story inspired by some of my own experiences and some of my creative imagination. I want it to be liked but mostly I am choosing to be grateful for making it happen and completing the journey. Thanks for following and sharing!

Justine couldn’t decide which was louder, the crinkling of the paper table runner underneath her or her heart pounding like a bass drum in her ears. She had looked through every issue of People magazine, counted all the holes in the ceiling tile, studied the strange charts on the wall and played two games of solitaire on her phone. She wondered at length, “Why is it when they bring you into the exam room, they don’t let you stay in your own clothes until the Doctor is ready? You’re already feeling anxious, then they sit you in a stark, bright, sterile room, turn the air down to 40 degrees, and tell you to make yourself comfortable. Twenty minutes later, you’re still sitting there, cold, alone, and in a sheer cotton gown. This must be the reason blood pressure readings were always higher when you were at the Doctors office. White coat syndrome? More like naked, cold and sitting on a paper table –runner syndrome.”

Through the window Justine could see the rain was still falling heavily. It was so heavy on the ride in, she had viewed it as a bad sign, she thought, even heaven is crying for me today. Recalling a phone call from 11years ago, she could still hear her sister’s voice, “Justine, I have breast cancer.” By far the worst 4 words she had ever heard. “How could it be? There was no family history, she was a non-smoker and had no children, she was in the lowest risk category there was, and yet, there she was, at just 31. Her thoughts are scattered as she hears a light tapping on the door as her Doctor walks into the room. Justine can’t tell by looking at her face what the news is going to be. Her Doctor always wore a gentle expression and now Justine was looking pleadingly into her warm brown eyes for an answer. Then she speaks, “Justine, its good news. We’ve caught it in time.” she feels her body collapse inwardly with relief. Her breath catches in her throat and she feels as though her heart is going to explode. As her eyes well with tears of gratitude, she is sure she has misunderstood what she hears the doctor say next.

“What did you say?” “I said you’ll only need a mastectomy and possibly some chemotherapy.” Justine blinks at her; as if that will affect what she has just heard. Her mouth has gone completely dry, so dry she can barely speak, she tries to swallow but it feels like her throat is coated in chalk. Finally she manages. “How is that good news? How is that catching it early? How is that possible?” She can feel the tears pooling in the corner of her eyes. Her throat is closing in around the lump rising in it and now it feels as though she has swallowed a whole piece of chalk. She pushes it back; forces the tears down, forces the lump down, forces the fear away. Far, far away. She grasps the sides of her gown, pulling it tightly around her, somehow thinking that she’s got to protect her breasts now. I’ve got to keep them safe, I’ve got to get a mastectomy. I’ve got to call my sister. The doctor pats Justine’s hand, “take a few minutes and then meet me in my office, I’m sure you have a lot of questions.” Somehow she manages to dress herself, and head into the doctor’s office. They sit for a moment. She has no questions and she has a million questions. As her doctor reviews all the test results the only thing Justine hears is that surgery needs to be scheduled, she replies numbly, “as soon as possible.” Her doctor nods, and says “I’ll call you.”

Like a stunned moth that has flown into a bug catcher, Justine walks in a daze to her car. It’s still raining and Justine hates it. She hates the smell of it, the feel of it even the sound of it. She never used to feel that way. As a kid she loved everything about it. Hearing the drops hit the rain spout right outside her bedroom window tinkling and pinging, almost like one of those expensive rain chimes they make now and sell in the Skymall magazine. Smelling the rain mingled with the salt air from the bay behind her home was almost intoxicating to her. Sometimes she would run down to the shoreline and watch the raindrops dance on the surface of the water. She loved it, but not anymore. Now it felt like a wall of despair crushing down on her, it smelled musty and acrid, filling her nostrils with disdain. The added weight of her wet clothes further cemented her feelings of despair. As she sits in her car to gather herself Justine finally crashes, putting her head back and breathing a ragged sigh, she can’t contain the tears any longer. Mingling with the rain outside, tears stream down her face, she begins to sob in an eerie harmony with the thunder outside. She will forever hate the rain from this day forward. Driving home Justine decides, today will just be hers, tomorrow she’ll face it and the rest of the world, but not today.

Justine’s hands are shaking as she dials her sister’s number. It had just been a few days earlier that Ginny had told Justine to get the MRI. “You have to take the test Tine, you can’t choose not to get this done, and you need to know. I need to know!” When Ginny’s husband answers the phone, she is relieved. “Hey Robert, how are you? “Hey Justine, I’m good, what’s up?”

“Um, not much, is my sister there?”

“No, actually she’s in Vegas, for that soccer tournament.”

Rubbing her chin warily with the side of her finger she says, “Oh that’s right, I forgot.”

“Hey, by the way, how did the MRI go?”

“Um, not too good actually. That’s why I’m calling.”

As Justine fills him in he tries to be reassuring. She can hear the heaviness in his voice through the phone. Having gone through this with her sister, he knows how hard it’s going to be.

“I’m so sorry Justine, but it will be okay. I just know it’ll be okay.”

“Should I call her in Vegas? I really think I should wait.”

“No, she would want to know. You need to call her.”

Justine thanks him and tells him she loves him. He says the same as he sighs heavily and hangs up the phone.

As she dials Ginny’s number she can feel the nerves creeping up again. “Hey sister!” Ginny bellows. Before Justine can even get a word out Ginny is on a roll, which is the opposite of how things usually are. Ginny; always the listener, Justine; always the talker.

“We won our first tournament! We’re in between games right now and I am getting creamed on the slot machines but it’s all so much fun and I wish you were here!”

“I wish I was too. Um, I’m so sorry to bother you while you’re away. I don’t mean to intrude, but I talked with Robert and he said that I should call you. And I just didn’t really know what to do. I knew you would want to know what the doctor said and I felt like I could wait till you got home.” Justine pauses to catch her breath and collect herself for a moment when she hears Ginny say, “stop it Tine! Just tell me!”

Justine takes a deep breath and says, “I have to have a mastectomy, it is cancer.”

Silence “Ginny, are you there?”

”Yes, I’m here. I just would never have believed that this was going to happen to you too. I thought it was a fluke that I had gotten it. Oh honey, I’m so sorry. Are they sure?”

Yes, as sure as they can be I guess. That’s what they tell me, I have cancer. I have to believe them. We’re hoping to have the surgery scheduled in the next 2 weeks. I know it all seems so fast but I want it out of me as soon as possible.”

“Well I’m coming out there, don’t even try to discourage me. I can be there for at least 10 days.”

“That would be wonderful”, Justine answers feebly and thanks her, and she knows what a comfort and huge help it will be to have Ginny there, especially after going through all of it herself.

“How soon can you be here?”

“As soon as you need me to be.”

Justine starts to sob, her voice raises as she tries to keep it from cracking, “Can you be here by tomorrow?”

Ginny promises to book her flight as soon as she gets home. “It’s going to be alright”, she reassures her. Before they hang up Ginny says, I’ll be praying for you and I love you. Justine echo’s the same.

Why I write

When I finally committed to starting a blog, I asked myself, “what would be the best thing to write about first”? The answer was pretty simple, write about why you write.

As far back as I can remember, I have been writing. I think it was one of the ways I could stand out next to my siblings who were exceptional athletes, though they would pee-shaw that statement,  they were in the trials for the junior Olympics, so that’s pretty good! Poetry was my strong suit. If you could share just a few things with me about someone, something or an event, I could write a poem about it. It was fun, it made people feel good and it made me feel good too.

A few years ago, my nephew Craig was living with us and we were talking about goals, aspirations and dreams. Of course writing professionally was one of mine. He encouraged me to write for 15 minutes everyday, write about something I knew and see what became of it. Well, 15 minutes turned into hours and hours turned into days and before I knew it, I had written a whole book. It was the most exciting creative process I’ve ever experienced, it was exuberant! The only thing  left for me to do is edit it and either self publish it, or get someone to, I will find the time to do that someday, I promise.

Thank you for coming along with me on this journey. I will write about everything and anything. I’ll even take your suggestions, if you’d like. Mostly, I just want to write. I want to encourage, inspire, provoke, motivate and feel the exhilaration of the creative process. I’m excited and hopeful that in turn I will feel all those things as well and finally finish what I began with my book.

To all of you who have been encouraging me for years to publish, share, promote, etc., hopefully this is just the beginning!