Saving Becca

One year in a family’s battle against cancer

When Becca is finally discharged, the decision is made to allow her to begin receiving chemo at home. Sue takes a class to learn how to clean Becca’s feeding tube and insert the medication through her permanent IV. She’s scared she’ll do something wrong but is eager for whatever sense of routine the family can reestablish. The at-home treatment goes well. Sue tends to Becca through the night, and a visiting nurse spells her from 9 to 5, letting Sue rest. For the first time in weeks, the Piccininis are a family together, and Sue feels more grounded than she has in a long time.

Becca is worried about school. As of today, she’s had only a half day of tutoring since Christmas. When her teachers come by, she hasn’t the energy to pay attention. Her friends visit, too, and this is easier to take; they require only to be in her company. Meghan, in particular, has become an easy, reliable companion. An agreeable kid with a wide smile and an easygoing manner, she watches TV while Becca dozes; sometimes, Becca doesn’t ever hear her leave. Her casual acceptance of her friend’s condition helps Becca feel connected to her “real” life, as she calls it. Meghan continually tells Becca she looks great bald. Sue and Bob treasure Meghan’s constancy.

When Becca feels well enough to go out, she and Meghan stroll the mall. Sometimes, even grown-ups who should know better stare, letting their eyes sweep over Becca’s gaunt frame, bald face and knit-capped head. Meghan murmurs, “Okay, on my count of three,” then counts off: One, two, three! And the pair stick their tongues out at the rude onlookers, who skulk away in red-faced shame.

Sue reprimanded Becca once for a similar gesture when the family was eating at a local restaurant. “Becca, that’s rude,” she said.

“Don’t tell me, tell her,” her daughter retorted, jabbing a thumb at a woman at a neighboring table, who had been stealing glances all through dinner. Sue wishes Becca felt good enough now to endure dinner anywhere.

Becca clings to the memory, the normalcy, of Paris, but despairs of ever feeling that good again. Yesterday, her white counts dropped dangerously low, and she needed a transfusion at Doylestown Hospital. During the night, she threw up her feeding tube.

The surgery has been rescheduled for March 4th, and Becca focuses on that date as if it’s a finish line. If she can just get rid of the tumor, all will be well. She won’t undergo any more chemo before then, and she’s hoping to regain some strength and put back a few pounds. Listless, bony and weak, she’ll settle for nothing less than a medal in this race. In the world of childhood cancer, she is what contenders look like.