Saving Becca

One year in a family’s battle against cancer

Becca, wearing at t-shirt and sweatpants, enters the kitchen.

“Mom,” she says, her handing rubbing her left side. “I’ve got a bump here. It feels like my rib’s sticking out.”

A dark-eyed girl with long, curly brown hair and luminous olive skin, she is tall and lanky like her mother; her shoulders have been broadened by competitive swimming, and her cheek- and collarbones are pronounced and beautiful. When she gives her trademark killer smile and whoops in dimple-deepening laugher, she’s every inch a kid. But when pensive or at rest, she looks older than 13, in that way that makes parents of daughters draw quick breaths at unexpected moments as they glimpse the women their girls will become.

She’s already starting to turn heads at Holicong Middle School. A poplar ninth-grader honor student, she plays clarinet in the marching band, plays piano, sings in the school choir. Throughout the past year, she and her band-mates have been holding fund-raisers to finance a trip to Paris, where they plan to march in a New Year’s Day parade. The trip is a constant topic of conversation among Becca and her friends, who ring her bedroom phone from after school until long past suppertime.

Given how absorbed she is these days, it’s a wonder she even noticed the bump, which she tells Sue wasn’t there the night before.

“Let me see, Becky,” says Sue, forgetting to use her daughter’s preferred nickname, short for Rebecca. (“For years, she’s been Becky,” Sue says, an eyebrow raised in amusement. “Now she wants to be Becca. I told her, ‘Fine, but don’t expect me always to remember.’”) The protruding rib is odd; Becca can’t remember inuring herself. Although it doesn’t hurt much, Sue thinks they should check it out.

The next morning, she takes Becca to their family doctor, who isn’t too concerned but orders a chest x-ray anyway. Sue is reassured by the doctor’s thoroughness. But later that day, when the film shows a shadow on what could be Becca’s rib or left lung, Sue feels her stomach tighten. Becca is referred to a Doylestown pulmonologist, who orders a CT scan and biopsy. Becca, who’s never been a complainer, cries during the painful procedure.

Bob and Sue try, unsuccessfully, not to panic as they wait another day for the test results. Other than routine childhood ailments, both Becca and little Bobby have always shimmered with good health. Maybe the shadow on Becca’s x-ray is scar tissue from past chest colds? It couldn’t be anything more serious, could it, when Becca looks and feels so healthy?

Becca, though still sore, is concerned, but also somewhat taken with her medical adventures, discussing them at length with her friends Amy and Amy (referred to as “the Two Amys”) and Meghan. She’s been thinking she’d like to be a doctor, maybe a surgeon, so she found her hospital visit intriguing.

Sue assures Bobby that Becca is fine. He and his sister are closer, their relationships surprisingly free of typical sibling bickering and disdain. Becca is affectionately tolerant of their three-year age difference, and Bobby adores her.