Saving Becca

One year in a family’s battle against cancer

The source of infection is a rectal abscess, probably a result of the sever constipation associated with Becca’s form of chemotherapy. The slightest strain during defecation can create small tears in the skin that are susceptible to infection from normal bowel bacteria. Himelstein assures Sue and Bob that once the antibiotics kick in, Becca should feel much better.

The next day, Becca indeed seems more alert, but her mood is black. She’s worried about Paris. When Becca was diagnosed, Sue and Bob wanted to put the kibosh on the trip, but Himelstein asked them to reconsider. “If her blood counts are good, if she’s feeling well, if we establish a plan of action in case she gets sick, I think she should be able to do the trip,” he said, which further endeared him to Becca — finally, a grown-up who got it. He said that when the time came, he would consult with an oncologist in Paris, in case medical intervention was needed, and debrief the adults chaperoning the trip. What was important, he said, was for Becca’s life to continue as normally as possible.

Now, though, the trip is threatened. Knowing her daughter would lose her fertility was a watershed moment for Sue; the fear of losing Paris is having the same effect on Becca.

Eight weeks after her diagnosis, tired and betrayed by her body, Becca is grasping that this illness isn’t just about loosing her hair, or Joey’s affections, or the chance to giggle with her friends in a foreign country, all of which can be had later on. It’s about maybe losing a “later on” altogether. It’s harrowing to see the awareness dawn on her. She’s learning, sooner than any child should have to, about life and death and the thin line that separates the two. Yesterday, she was going to Paris; today, she could die. This is way too heavy for a kid to grasp, but she’s a bright girl, and, like Himelstein, she gets it.

“Becky, sweetie, here are the crackers you like,” Bob says gently seeing the realization come over his daughter, knowing there is nothing he can do to protect her from it.

“I don’t want any,” she says, so softly you can barely hear, turning her back on her parents, curling in on herself. Until now, she has been a feisty champ, accepting with extraordinary grace the side effects of her treatment, learning to joke about her wig, making sure her nails are always painted fun colors — blue polish on one hand, red on the other — eager to call her friends from the hospital as soon as the nausea passes so she can hear the latest gossip. Today, though, all her defenses are gone. She begins to weep, quietly and finally, for herself.

Bob leaves her be. He knows when she needs to be by herself, or to be alone with Sue. He heads to the cafeteria for a soda.