Rosie: No one should have to die the way my sister Ariane did.
On 13th March this year, my eldest sister Ariane died of cancer aged 35. This followed three and a half years of invasive treatments and pain. Her greatest fear was that her two young children wouldn’t be able to remember their mum. It was an impossibly sad situation.
Ariane lived with her husband in Hamilton and was mother to Makensie and Blake. Despite leaving school early to work on a farm, she got herself a first class honours degree in Business and a great job with an agricultural company based in the Waikato. I’d describe her as driven and a real organiser; she always had an extravagant plan going to take her kids on missions.
In 2016, the acute pain developing in her lower abdomen was finally diagnosed as cervical cancer. Luckily, she found a good doctor and began planning how to beat this thing. A year later, after chemo, brachytherapy and radiation, she went into remission. It wasn’t a breeze; she fought like hell. I was so relieved and we had a blissful year of being cancer free.
Sadly, at the beginning of 2018 we found out her cancer was back. Ariane herself was sad and scared, but she was pragmatic. She loved her life and wanted to live it, so she took any treatment she could. She underwent ten months’ of immunotherapy and during that time was able to walk, exercise and socialise. She was tired, but able to enjoy life – for a time.
Unfortunately, the tumours began to grow again. She tried to get on a medical trial in America however the checklist was too long and risks too high. By this stage, she needed to use a wheelchair and was on so many meds she joked she was a walking pharmacy. I remember she had to have her own briefcase of medical supplies for a girls’ trip to Rarotonga – the last holiday she took.
Last Christmas was our final one together as a family. My parents had moved into their camper on the driveway in Hamilton and as a doctor and nurse were her full-time carers. Ariane’s treatment options had run out and her health entered a painfully gradual decline.
I sat with her in bed while her foot massager churned away. Her pain was relentless and I remember sleeping in the room next door, hearing her moaning and whimpering in agony all night. She started chanting, as a way to get out of her head perhaps; it was intolerable for her.
She did have some beautiful times as well; trips to Mangakino with her little family, swims and massages. But my sister was fading and I worried more and more for her. I felt helpless in the face of her suffering.
In late January I left work as the doctors had told us it wouldn’t be long now. Eight weeks’ later she was still ‘alive’ but not really there anymore. The small moments of Ariane faded away and became less and less. I remember waking up most days hoping she had gone in her sleep, just to save her from her suffering.
She trooped on, but she was terrified she would never die. We had conversations where she told me she felt so foreign in her body and it just felt like a cage for her soul. She was in agony and didn’t want to suffer any longer.
She vomited more than she ate. I’m not really sure what she had left to get out.
Her kids went to school but were increasingly nervous around their mum. They pulled back as Ariane’s appearance changed. She hadn’t eaten in eight weeks; only ginger beer skulls through a straw. There was a sunken skeletal body left of once a healthy woman.
She had a fire inside her until the day she died, screaming with frustration and fear and perhaps just to be heard: “I am here world, please don’t forget to take me.”
I had to leave a few nights before she died. I was anxious and sleeping next to her one night I dreamt of taking her life; giving her too much medication, just to put an end to her misery. It wasn’t fair – not for me, but especially not for my beautiful sister. She was a woman full of life; a mother, a daughter and my brave, strong sister. Cancer left her crushed in a way nobody saw coming.
I will be voting YES in the End of Life Choice referendum because no one deserves that end. For the rest of my life, I have to go on knowing I couldn’t have done anything to help Arns. The law must change. Vote YES on 17 October.