Saving Becca

One year in a family’s battle against cancer

This news is what finally makes Sue crack in front of her daughter. The preceding week had been so fraught with panicked tests and hastily arranged medical consultations that there hadn’t been time, really, to fall apart. Each new bit of medical information has brought its own chain reaction of next steps that must be taken lest one moment be wasted. Bob and Sue have whispered their fears to each other in the middle of the night, not wanting to frighten their children.

But this — this is too much. Becca started playing mommy at the age of four, lining up her dolls and stuffed animals, calling them her babies. She wanted three of them when she married, twin boys and a girl. Sue has thought happily of her future grandchildren, how she and Bob will spoil them silly, how Becca will be an amazing mother. She’s contemplated how becoming a parent has broadened her own emotional terrain, brought nuance and depth to life’s smallest moments, given meaning to the tedium. How unfair that Becca, who has not even begun to date, won’t know the eventual prize in the playful dance of the sexes: the sweet smell of her own newborn’s head.

Becca cries, too, when she hears she will be sterile. She isn’t against adoption or anything, but she wants her own children.

The next day, Sue frantically consults with a friend who works in a fertility specialist’s office, to ask if Becca’s eggs can be harvested and stored for later implantation. She’s told the eggs won’t keep until Becca’s adulthood. There is the possibility of fertilizing some of Becca’s eggs now, but they would have to be implanted in a few years.

Becca is freaked out by this entire conversation. She’s uncomfortable enough talking with her parents about sex. Yet here they are, discussing her reproductive organs and wondering how they would go about selecting a suitable sperm donor. Becca tells them she’ll have none of it. Yes, she wants kids one day, but she can’t think that far ahead.

“God, I’m only 13!” she tells them. “I don’t want a baby now! I want to go to college and have a life first!”

In their wildest dreams, Bob and Sue never imagined their duties as parents might extend to making reproductive decisions for their daughter. It is yet another unthinkable place to which the cancer has taken them.

BEFORE THE CHEMOTHERAPY BEGINS, BOB, Sue and Becca meet with Holicong’s guidance counselor to figure out how Becca will fulfill the academic requirements needed to complete ninth grade. Tutors can help her stay on top of course work, but only if she’s feeling well enough to sit with them. If she misses too much school, she might have to attend summer classes or, at worst, repeat the ninth grade entirely. Becca is alarmed by this.