TIME DASHED the moment the diagnosis was given.
Ginny had not responded to the antibiotics and gone back into hospital. Mum flew up from Palmerston and began to give daily updates as the first inklings Ginny's illness was more serious coalesced like a graveyard fog.
But none of us were prepared, though, for the day the right tests were run. For when the young doctor entered Ginny's room on a Monday morning and said the melanoma was back, had metastasised, was far advanced. He had no treatment plan to offer.
Before leaving the room, eyes downcast, shamed in the face of Ginny and mum's shock, he said they should contact the Hospice. Then he was gone.
The Hospice - palliative care for the dying.
In a quavering voice Mum recounted all this. It was later that morning and we were driving back to the hospital to pick Ginny up. She did not want to stay there. She wanted to come home. The doctors said okay.
Dying. . . I couldn’t comprehend it. It had been such a minor thing the year before when Ginny had the mole cut from her leg. The ‘shark bite’ she called it. We knew it was cancerous, but it was small and the surgeon thought he'd got it all, and things had soon gone on as usual.
But he hadn’t.
Ginny, who never went out in the sun and was the only one in the family never to have smoked. Ginny, who at thirty-five was now dying of skin cancer. My mind shrank back from the implications, focused on what next needed to be done.
Hannah, in Sydney, got a call as we drove. My sister was not ready for the conversation. Who could be?
I wish now I’d been able to break the news better, that my intentions had been more pure. That some stunted, horrid part of me hadn’t thrilled at the drama of it all, the sheer scale of disclosure.
This shrivelled to nothing before the terror in Hannah's voice. "What do you mean cancer?" I had to pass the phone to Mum to explain. Mum soon began to cry. I sucked down cigarettes one after another.
Finally Mum passed the phone back. "Hannah, you have to get here as soon as you can. I mean like today or tomorrow.”
Tears in her voice, Hannah promised she would. We agreed to talk later and I ended the call - Hannah crying. I hated to leave her like that: upset, alone, at work. But what could I do?
There was nothing any of us could do.
When we arrived at Ginny's room she was putting on a brave face but could no longer hide the battle her body was losing. Like an acid splash, it was etched all over.
She was ten kilograms lighter - a great start to her weight loss we had joked only a few days earlier - her skin a translucent white. Her breath came hard and heavy, her movements were slow, and her eyes, from their dark hollows, guttered like candles in a cave.
Yet even then I did not fully understand, had not brought her oxygen tank for the drive home. It was only a short drive, you see. Mum was upset. Ginny forgave. But it was difficult for her. She had to sit with the window down, head partially out, panting.
Out of the corner of my eye I studied her, as the traffic swirled by and that indifferent Monday went on, as the whole of that scene chewed a hole through my brain, and I could no longer pretend.
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