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Chapter 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 is today? 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 I ask for one last favor, can you brush my hair out for me?”

One Comment
  1. Carol pappas permalink

    beautiful, funny, captivating.

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