Saving Becca, continued

Sue retrieves the girls later from the dance and drives them to Friendly’s, where they’re meeting up with a bunch of other kids. She’s flattered when Becca and Meghan invite her to join them; she’d been prepared to wait in the car and read. “Gee,” she jokes, sliding into the booth, “I feel special.”

The next day, Becca is beat. But the evening was worth the energy it sapped. The dance wasn’t just about having fun. It was about looking pretty and doing what normal kids do — a tantalizing reminder of the great life she had before her diagnosis, the life that may await her still.

LATE ON THE EVENING OF JULY 2nd, Becca is admitted to CHOP with a high fever. The doctor also hears a rattling in Becca’s chest, but an x-ray shows nothing out of the ordinary. It’s a crazy, busy night at CHOP, and Becca isn’t wheeled to a room until 5 in the morning. Later in the day, she feels enough improved to beg a six-hour pass to Vet Stadium for the fireworks show the family has been planning to attend. The display is like nothing they’ve ever seen, bathing them all in eerie, blinding lights, shaking their insides with boom after boom. Afterward, Bob drops Sue and Becca at CHOP, then drives back to Doylestown with Bobby.

Becca wakes the next morning with pain in her left shoulder. She thinks maybe she slept on it funny, but then she hiccups once, and all hell breaks loose. For the next hour and a half, she writhes with chest, back and abdomen spasms that bewilder her doctors.

They listen again to her chest, and this time the crackling sounds “like Rice Krispies,” says Sue. A new x-ray reveals pneumonia that wasn’t visible in the earlier film. The left lung is putting pressure on Becca’s diaphragm, which is causing the hiccups. Sue is in agony watching her daughter suffer. She lies with her in bed, stroking Becca’s hair as the girl screams. “Please, God, take her pain,” Sue prays through her tears, feeling as desperate as she did the day Becca was diagnosed. “Let it go away.”

Morphine finally brings relief. Becca’s condition befuddles her doctors. She takes weekly prophylactic doses of Bactrim to ward off certain infections. It’s an antibiotic commonly used to treat pneumonia, so she shouldn’t have contracted the disease.

The month passes in a blur as Becca’s pneumonia is eventually classified as radiation pneumonitis, an inflammation caused by her radiation treatment. It’s a rare side effect that eventually collapses her left lung. “With the exception of an infection at her chest tube site, Becca has had every side effect and complication that comes with this disease,” says Sue. “Why should this be different?”

She has begun to give vehement voice to her impatience. She wants Becca’s health back now, her family’s routine reestablished now, the emergency rides to CHOP to end now. She wants not to feel her heart ache every times she looks at her daughter, not to feel guilty that her son isn’t getting enough of her time, not to wonder from day to day what rare side effect is going to make an exception, once again, in Becca’s case.