Saving Becca

One year in a family’s battle against cancer

THREE DAYS AFTER BECCA’S admission for her infection, she’s in much better spirits. Her white blood counts are back to normal, and Himelstein says that once his patient moves her bowels, she can go home, in time for Christmas. Sue is in the cafeteria, getting coffee; Bob arrived a few minutes ago to pick up his wife and daughter. To celebrate her discharge, Becca’s made herself a sparkling wreath out of stars and ribbon and plopped it on her bald head. She’s sitting cross-legged in bed, eating cherry tomatoes that she first dips into salad dressing. She scratches numbers in a notebook, calculating the platelet counts, which look excellent. Best of all: Himelstein says if she keeps feeling good, she can go to Paris!

The nurse comes in. “Hey, Becca, did you poop yet?”

“No,” she says, too used to this line of inquiry to be embarrassed anymore. “Can’t I do it at home?”

“We’ll check with the doctor, but I think we want you to do it here, to make sure everything’s okay.”

Becca enters the bathroom and tries to go, but nothing happens. She emerges looking sullen. She wants to get home now, and see her friends at the Christmas concert tonight. The unit’s tutor comes in. Does Becca want to go over some math?

“No,” she says evenly.

“Becca, it’s only for an hour, and it will count a lot toward your missed classes,” says Sue, who has returned.

“I know all that stuff,” Becca says crossly, looking away. The tutor, impossible to offend, says maybe next time and leaves.

An oncology resident comes in. “So, Becca, were you able to go?”

Becca says nothing.

As the afternoon drags on, everyone sitting around waiting for Becca to move her bowels, her mood worsens. The tomatoes are mixing with the doughnut she ate a while before, and she’s starting to feel sick. Her nurse hands her a glass of magnesium citrate, leavened with ice and lemon juice. “Try this, Becca,” she says sympathetically. “This’ll help you go.”

“Just chug it down, Becky,” says Bob, looking nervously at his watch. If he doesn’t make a payroll deposit by 4 p.m., a lot of employees won’t have Christmas shopping money.

You chug it down,” she snaps.

“I would honey, but I’m not having trouble going to the bathroom.”

She feels like a child, and it’s no wonder. Here she is, 14 years old, having a test of wills with her father over toilet stuff. “This is so unfair,” she sighs, tears in her eyes.

“C’mon, Bec,” says Sue, escorting Becca to the bathroom. “Let’s try. I’ll sit with you.”