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Chapter 3 & 4 Second Chances- By Beth Ritter

October 22, 2015


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?”


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

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One Comment
  1. carol permalink

    you are blessed abundantly!

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