Saving Becca

One year in a family’s battle against cancer

Himelstein heads for the waiting room to give Sue and Bob the news. His appearance in the doorway is like a tap against a mobile; the family shifts and moves, and Bob rises out of his char, then puts his palm on its back for support. Himelstein brings his hands together in a clasp. “Well your daughter’s tumor is now in my favorite place,” he says, in the dry way the Piccininis have come to know well. “In a bucket, on its way to the lab.”

Since the tumor was touching the lining of the chest wall, Himelstein tells them, they should probably count on Becca needing radiation to eradicate cells not killed by the chemo. They can discuss the remaining chemo treatments later. For now, he suggest Bob and Sue get some lunch; it’ll be a couple of hours until Becca is back in the oncology unit.

“Okay. Thank you, doctor. Thanks. Thanks so much for everything,” repeats Bob, his brown eyes wet with relief. He blows out a long breath. “Sue? Honey? Could you use a sandwich?”

“I couldn’t eat a thing,” says Sue. Her eyes, too, are glistening with tears.

“Okay,” says Bob. “Radiation and seven more rounds of chemo. We’re halfway home. We can do this.”

He and Sue and the rest of the family pack up their belongings and slowly make their way to the cafeteria. Bobby drags one hand along the wall, holds his mother’s hand with the other. Bob stretches his arms over his head and cracks his knuckles. From behind, they look like a knot of runners after a race, their heads down, spent at the finish line.

BECCA RECOVERS RAPIDLY FROM the surgery, answering the phone herself the next day when friends call. Soon, she’s off the serious painkillers altogether. The scar is going to be a doozy, but at least it doesn’t slash across her tummy or down the middle of her back. This summer, when she wears a bikini, maybe it won’t show unless somebody stands right next to her. With aplomb only a beautiful teenager could muster, she pronounces it “kind of cool.”

The pathology reports confirm that live cancerous cells remain at the margins of the tumor site.