Hope that she would be one of the select few to survive what we have come now to see as a death sentence, Pancreatic Cancer.
I was in Ballina visiting my brother-in-law and his family the day Rochelle was told there was no hope.
It was fitting that it was a miserable wet day; we were meeting my sister-in-law for lunch at a café and sitting there, all I could think of was that Rochelle hadn’t called. I knew what time she was meeting with the surgeon, and in my gut I knew that the longer it took for her to call the worse the news was going to be because Rochelle would first talk to her girls and then Ruth and me.
When she told me all I could do was cry, sitting at a table on the covered veranda while the rain poured down. All I remember was her asking, “How am I going to tell Ruth and mum?”
That was the last time I cried in front of Rochelle. I refused to mourn her while she was still alive. Thirteen months later she was gone.
In those thirteen months, we celebrated her birthday, her grandson Liv’s first birthday, her daughter Jessica’s wedding and my mother’s 80th birthday.
We lost my aunt at 65 to cancer, another aunt’s sister who was also a very close friend at 64 to a sudden heart attack, and another close friend to cancer.
We also juggled, caring for her with caring for my mother (who has a bone marrow issue that requires her to have tri-weekly blood transfusions) and caring for her grandson (who couldn’t be around her while she went through chemotherapy). We juggled visits to the oncology unit with visits to the palliative care specialist (or as her oncologist euphemistically called it: the pain management specialist). We juggled numerous hospital admissions for various related problems and subsequent treatment. And all the time Rochelle got thinner and thinner but her spirit got stronger and stronger and she refused to give in.
Two nights before Rochelle died we had Friday night dinner at Jessica’s new home. It was a very special time because true to her spirit Rochelle insisted on coming, she lay on the couch sucking on an ice block and vomiting every other minute but she was there to celebrate Shabbat in her daughter’s home for the first time. She had to be wheeled in and out of the house in a wheelchair that it took two men to get her into and out of, but she was determined to come.
That evening I told my husband, George, to help Danny take her home. When he got home, George told me that as he was helping her out of the wheel chair while Danny parked the car she said to him, “I’m not going to get any better am I?”
In that time my son was sitting his HSC exams, and I had an enormous sense of guilt, that while I was helping my sister, my niece, my mother and looking after my great nephew, I was neglecting him and forgetting that he was losing someone so central to his life too.
In the 16 months from diagnosis to death, I lost my sister so many times. I lost her when she couldn’t go for coffee like we used to. I lost her when she couldn’t come out to lunch because eating was so difficult for her. I lost her when we couldn’t meet in Bondi Junction on a Saturday any more. I lost her when she couldn’t come to the theatre like we had done so many times in the past. I lost her when she stopped ringing me to say, “what are you doing today? Do you want to drive me to ……. and I will quickly duck out and get ….” I lost her when she stopped calling me every morning just to have a chat about nothing in particular or about how she was so worried about something or the other that was going on in one of her daughter’s lives.
As a child, Rochelle was afraid of lots of things but the one thing I remember most is her fear of being alone. She was so afraid that I used to have to stand outside the bathroom door while she showered to make sure she was safe and that no one was going to ‘get’ her. She was very afraid of dying. It was fitting then that when she died she was in her own home, in her own bed, surrounded by more than 20 close family members who were there to support her with love and companionship so that she wouldn’t start her next journey alone and afraid.