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Tabbie & Suki - Sisters

Our people, their stories

Two of a kind

Suki sees being a twin as a key part of her identity. “I am a twin much in the same way as I am a girl or I am a New Zealander or I am Maori or an artist or a reader. It's a fundamental part of what makes me who I am.” Tabbie acknowledges that growing up as a twin is a strange experience. “It’s pretty weird to have a twin, like, someone else has your face! Being called another name so often that you automatically respond to it just in case someone might be addressing you by mistake... The awkward moment when somebody like a teacher or family friend confuses you with your twin, and you play along because you feel bad telling them they’ve mixed you up but you have no idea what they are talking about.” She also admits that they made the most if it. “We of course took advantage of our identical-ness. Swapping classes, places; sharing jobs, adventures, pranks and bunk beds. I don’t actually have many memories that don’t have her in it.” Having each other has helped them get through tough times, even in their youth. “As a teenagers our family had some massive upheavals and, being the eldest, we wore quite a lot of it. We grew up pretty fast at the time but I can't even begin to imagine how it would have been to try and get through that alone.”

They’re still so in sync, that Suki admits their friends find it equally awkward and amusing. “In conversations with other people we talk in unison or finish each other’s sentences. Our friends think it's a bit creepy and also a bit like watching a very fast tennis match. They get whiplash.” Sometimes even Tabbie’s partner can’t keep up. “We talk in unison so constantly that my boyfriend complains it’s like having a conversation in stereo.” This unison even applies to their bodies. “If I complained of a headache as a kid, mum would rush to Suki with a bucket because she would, inevitably, throw up. It's inexplicable, this connection. It can’t be explained by science, it just exists.”At the end of the day, they wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s easy. The best thing is this: knowing that someone completely understands you always. Not just taking your side, not just sympathising, but completely and utterly empathising and comprehending without an explanation.”

The struggle of separation

Their bond is so strong, that for Suki (and Tabbie too) distance is a struggle. “I am not wholly myself unless we are together.” They had a close upbringing, and shared a room throughout their youth, however their teenage years brought the first challenge to their closeness. “They tried to separate us when we went to high school. We did one year of being in separate classes and we were so unhappy. So mum went to the principal and said this isn't happening again.” The realities of adulthood necessitated, at the very least, a separation. “When we left home for the first time and we had our own bedrooms and things, it was really disconcerting. It was weird to sleep in different rooms, and the first time that we spent a night apart was quite traumatic; we'd been together every night of our lives since we were conceived.”

Suki’s proud that they’ve managed to overcome the separation of distance. “Though we haven't lived in the same city for seven years, we are in almost constant communication… If I'm feeling down or frustrated or angry I call her and she tells me I'm in the right or makes me laugh.” For Tabbie, distance is purely a concept. “It doesn’t matter where Suki and I are in the world, because we always feel connected.” Suki agrees that their bond is unbreakable. “She is always there for me. That's the essence of us. A permanent, unequivocally loving and supportive person who makes you laugh uncontrollably and also bakes a mean pie so I can eat my feelings.”

A shared burden

“We were dynamic, high achieving and driven, and a lot of what made us us was taken from us.” Their identity as twins, although giving them a truly special bond, also gave them a tragic illness, Tabbie explains. “The freak splitting of cells in the womb that made us two, also meant we share a genetic burden; a rare kidney disorder that has seen us spend the last five years in hospitals, surgeries, on drips, and in stasis, as we wait for new kidneys to replace the faulty ones. We have spent the last three Christmases in hospital.” Neither twin can metabolise electrolytes like potassium, phosphate, phosphate, calcium and sodium – all vital for healthy bodily function. “From the day we were diagnosed, through our steady descent towards organ failure, our lives have been immutably and irreparably changed. We’ve had to say goodbye to dream jobs, to careers, to having children, to having lives of spontaneity, and adventure.” Feeling stagnant is a constant frustration. “You just kind of sometimes feel like the world is moving so fast around you.”

Their illness has had a huge impact on their family. Their father felt helpless. “When we first started getting sick, his sort of reaction to things was to be angry… So for him, it was ‘What can we do? what can we fix?’ ” Due to the genetic nature of their condition, their mother feels a burden of guilt. She wants to donate a kidney, and she now walks 5kms day to bring her blood pressure down in order to do so – ignoring the pain caused by hip and knee replacements.

Tabbie credits their family and her bond with her twin for getting them through. “It’s been a really arduous journey, and without each other, who can say where we would be... Often when I have felt like I was being swallowed up, Suki has prised the jaws open and kept my head above the chaos and despair. Lending me spirit. Lending me strength. It’s simply the assurance that comes with having her by my side. It’s the comfort of knowing I’ll always have someone who gets me, someone who I don’t need to explain myself to, someone who, already and will always, understand me.” Suki emphasises the shared nature of their experience. “One of the most comforting things about going through this is that I can always talk to Tab. She knows, intimately, the stresses, demands, frustrations, agonies and guilt that come from an overwhelming illness like ours. And I know that no matter what I say, she understands.”

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