Saving Becca

One year in a family’s battle against cancer

Theirs is a close bond, forged over shopping trips, long car rides, rambling after-school talks around the kitchen table with Becca’s friends. Maybe that’s why, for now, Becca is content to hang with her mother and not with the handful of other teenage oncology patients when she’s at CHOP. Sue, though, senses that Becca’s reluctance to socialize is more about needing to distance herself from her disease. “I don’t think she’s ready to admit yet that she’s one of them,” says Sue. “She wants to see CHOP as a place where she gets a quick dose of chemo, then leaves.”

Last month, Bobby had a hard time with Becca’s chemo treatment and Sue’s absence. He stayed with friends and neighbors after school until Bob came home from work. But the routine was wearying; 10 months of it would take a toll on them all. Bob has decided to move his office into the house, so he can be there with Bobby after school, the way Sue would normally be. He’s also put his business expansion on hold for a year or so while they handle Becca’s illness.

The Piccininis are grateful to have the financial means and job flexibility to hold the family together while Becca goes through this. The medical statements from their insurance carrier have begun pouring in, stunning them with the cost of keeping Becca alive. So far, the tab — all covered by their carrier — is in the tens of thousands of dollars. By the time Becca completes treatment, Bob estimates that U.S. Healthcare will have paid out well over a million bucks. As tough as this is on them, they can’t imagine how hard it is for families with fewer resources. Sue feels for the single parents and working mothers who can’t afford to be with their children during treatment, even though the nurses at CHOP are great, and a bevy of oncological social workers helps ensure no one feels they’re going it alone.

Despite her parents’ gratitude for their options, Becca feels guilty about being sick. Sue and Bob have reassured their daughter that this is not her fault, she is not an inconvenience, they are gladly adjusting their lives because that’s what families do, with love and without question. All they want is for her to get better. Deep down, Becca knows this is true. But she still feels rotten, especially when she sees her parents trying to be brave for her sake.

The night before her third round of chemo, it all erupts. She misses her friends, hates the bulky catheter implanted in her chest to transport her many medications, despises how cancer has turned Joey into a jerk. “I’m sick of chemo!” she tells Sue as she packs for CHOP. “It’s ruining my life!”

“Becky.” Sue sighs. “You won’t have a life to ruin if you don’t get chemo, honey, and that’s the way it is.”