Saving Becca

One year in a family’s battle against cancer

Becca is tattooed in preparation for radiation, which will be aimed through her chest. Though they’d been told all along that the treatments were likely, Sue and Bob are discouraged. Given the toxicity of Becca’s medications — one of which has already begun affecting the efficiency of her heart, as they were warned it might — they had hoped to avoid radiation, which can produce future side effects. Because Becca’s chest will be radiated, her heart will be further assaulted, and her risk for getting breast cancer will increase significantly, requiring her to receive annual mammograms starting at age 20. The radiation will probably affect her ability to lactate if she ever should become pregnant via egg donation.


Sue doesn’t get weepy at this news, as she did the news of Becca’s ruined fertility. “I know these doctors are doing their best,” she says, losing her cool. “We were told Becca might develop infections, she might have heart damage, she might need radiation. But there’s been no ‘might’ about any of it! She’s gotten infections after every chemo treatment, her medication is definitely affecting her heart, and now she definitely needs radiation. I wish people would stop using the word ‘might.’ It makes you cling to odds that aren’t really in your favor. Each time something bad happens, it feels even worse.”

Over the next weeks, Becca watches the video of her surgery again and again, alone and with friends. It doesn’t make her squeamish. She’s wowed by the combination of athleticism and skill required to slice open a body and put it back together again. Sue and Bob can’t bring themselves to watch the tape.

“C’mon, you guys, it’s cool,” Becca teases them. “Look at my heart beating!”

The family hoped the surgery would end emergency trips to CHOP, but they are brutally disappointed. The following weeks bring more infections, all requiring hospital admission. The family feels blindsided. They thought the infections would ease after the tumor was removed, that this last half of treatment would be an easy lope down the home stretch. If anything, everyone’s more frayed than ever.

Sue and Bob yearn to get away from it all, just the two of them. For months now, saving Becca’s life and not letting Bobby get lost along the way have been their priorities. They’ve been giving all their energy to the kids. What’s left over for them?

“Not much,” says Bob. “I keep saying that years from now, we’ll look back on this as a nightmare we got through together.”

Still, as Becca’s illness drags on, even Bob knows that Sue, especially, needs a breather. His work provides a mental respite from the stress of the cancer, but Sue bears the brunt of Becca’s care, regularly trading her bed for a cot at CHOP, scheduling tutors, changing plans at a moment’s notice when a fever spikes. “She’s starting to run on empty,” he says.


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