Saving Becca

One year in a family’s battle against cancer

BEFORE THE DIAGNOSIS, BEFORE BECCA FACED THE prospect of losing her hair, her fertility and the 14th year of her childhood, Bob and Sue Piccinini wanted a lot of things for their daughter.

They wanted her to work hard at school, to practice her clarinet and piano, to go all out at swim meets. Not just because she was smart, musically inclined and athletic, but because measuring herself against herself was the only sure way to learn the lessons of success. They wanted her to be patient with the eager girls and boys who telephoned their home in Doylestown, asking if Becca would go with them to the mall or the roller rink, because they wanted her to learn that being popular doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility of being kind. They wanted more mundane things, too — for her to turn off the light when she was done in the bathroom, not to kick her laundry under her bed, to stay off her bedroom phone once in a while. All the little family courtesies that hold kids back while they charge toward futures that will be rich with dreams, their parents hope, for their own children.

That was yesterday.

Today, as they twitch in a doctor’s office, absorbing the news that their daughter could die from a rare form of cancer they’ve never heard of, all Bob and Sue want is for Becca to outlive them.


It is a Sunday morning in mid-October of 1997, and the Piccinini family (pronounced “pitch-a-KNEE-nee”) is swinging into another day.

Bob, 42, sips a cup of coffee before church, glad to have some time off. He co-owns Keystone Financial Service Group, Inc., an insurance brokerage located just a few miles from the Piccininis’ Doylestown home. But he’s been busy with another enterprise, JPW Services, which handles administration of employee payrolls and benefits. Bob, a balding fireplug of a man with sparkling brown eyes, dimples, and a demeanor that manages to be both friendly and no-nonsense, is feeling good about how things are going with JPW. He’s looking forward to expanding the operation in the coming year.

Sue, 40, a long-limbed reed a shade taller than Bob, is fixing breakfast for Bobby Jr., a fifth-grader who has his father’s eyes and smile. She’s a pretty blonde, a slightly shy woman with a warm smile and a laid-back manner that counters her husband’s high energy. Sue helps part-time with Bob’s paperwork, but her real job is being the heartbeat of the family’s home, a sprawling, sun-washing masionette on rolling Gloucester Drive. She’s there when the kids come home from school; she ferries them to pools and ball fields, gets dinner on the table by 6. On every surface in the house — the shelves, end tables, the top of the console piano in the living room — she has placed framed photos of her family. The front hall is a gallery in itself: Bob and Sue’s wedding portrait, endearingly dated by Bob’s off-white, mod-ish tux, surrounded by shots of little Bobby and 13-year-old Becca at every stop of their development.