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November Calendar Kid: Becca brings out the best in everyone
November 02, 2021
Oncology patient Becca floating in pool

Becca's cancer journey has brought out the best in her and others

Becca Chamberlain’s mom, Anne, describes her as “a wonderful combination of fun loving, smart, kind, effervescent and engaged with life in a contagious way.” At 13 years old, she loves adventure, is game to try new things and likes to have a plan. One adventure that wasn’t part of her plan? Cancer.

Diagnosis and getting started with cancer treatment

Normally very active, Becca found herself getting more tired, slower and out of breath during her running club. A visit to the pediatrician’s office in April 2019 resulted in an immediate trip to the CHoR emergency department and then a same-day admission to the hospital. She was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of 10 – the beginning of a two-and-a-half-year journey.

Dr. Christina Wiedl delivered the news of Becca’s diagnosis and led her care with equal parts scientific knowledge and compassion. She shared this leadership with Dr. Jordyn Griffin as active treatment progressed.

“We knew these doctors had our backs. Not only did Dr. Wiedl draw diagrams to help explain the intricacies of this specific type of leukemia and talk through the plan to treat it, she also provided us with emotional support. Both doctors gave exactly what we needed in each stage of Becca’s treatment and recovery, providing enough information to make sure we were knowledgeable, without overwhelming us,” said Anne.

That first hospital stay lasted for six days, while Becca’s care team got the emergency situation under control. Her rigorous treatment plan continued from there with weekly clinic visits, blood transfusions, platelets, bone marrow samples, breathing treatments, regular chemo infusions and nightly chemo pills.

“One of the other aspects of Becca's treatment has been repeated spinal taps with intrathecal chemotherapy,” said nurse practitioner Tom Brunner, who did most of these procedures with Becca. “There is a trust that has to be built with the families because we are injecting chemotherapy directly into the child's spinal column. We do these spinal taps at least every month early in treatment, then space them out to every three months. It was a big day when Becca had her last spinal tap over the summer!”

A medical team turned family

Despite the less than ideal reason for their meeting, Becca says Tom has become “almost like an uncle” to her. Many other team members have had special roles in her care too. “Fun Katie,” as Becca likes to call her, regularly pokes her head in to check on the Chamberlains in clinic. As a child life specialist, she’s always ready with a game, snack or listening ear. Nurse Crystal Aiken visited Becca at home during COVID to do lab draws. She got to know the Chamberlains in a new way, even meeting their dog!

Megan Beatley was the nurse who most often did Becca’s port access for chemo treatments in clinic.

“We shared a wide array of emotions and thoughts with Megan,” says Anne. “Tears as much from gratitude and laughter as from sadness and fear. She feels like family to us.”

No matter what Becca was experiencing in the moment, Megan and Becca’s medical team were always fully present, patient and deeply caring.

“As a pediatric oncology nurse, I spend a lot of one-on-one time with my patients — educating them, preparing them for exactly what to expect, answering their questions, asking about their feelings, encouraging them and trying to make them as comfortable and in control as possible. It’s all about trust,” said Megan. “Like many kids on active treatment, Becca experienced anxiety with having her port accessed, but after a while of working together she ultimately conquered that fear, and I’m so proud of her. I count it a privilege to have helped her through that traumatic experience. I hope one day she’ll look back on how brave she was in those moments and realize that she’s stronger than any giant she faces in life.” 

Becca and her parents will never forget about everyone in the inpatient setting too, from doctors and nurse practitioners, to child life specialists and Dayna with Ronald McDonald House Charities who took the time to get to know their family and anticipated their needs. She was a “constant ray of sunshine” when they needed it most.

“All the nurses are simply amazing. It’s hard to name just a few. Each one – there’s a story about what they said, did or offered that was memorable,” said Anne. “People get called to do that work and you can tell. It’s the most compassionate medical team I’ve ever encountered.”

The most important person on the team though, is Becca.

“From the very start, she has wanted to be part of the process – understanding every procedure, medication and decision. She’s been responsible for remembering to take all of her meds, which at times as been a massive quantity,” added Anne.

A hero to many in the fight against leukemia

Becca’s leukemia diagnosis came, ironically, just a couple weeks after the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society visited her school for a fundraiser kick-off. The donation box was still on her dresser when she returned home from the hospital. Later in treatment, Becca was invited to be an LLS Honored Hero. While the role comes with galas and events, the primary purpose is to serve as a symbol of strength and motivation for others battling leukemia or lymphoma, and people who are interested in donating to the fight against the diseases. There couldn’t be a more perfect fit for this position than Becca.

“She’s handled this all with grace and strength and has been an inspiration to others. Even when she was missing out on a lot of fun things life has to offer, she never dwelled on it. She accepted it, which is a really hard thing to do for a 10, 11 or 12-year-old,” said Anne. “There are so many reasons I’m proud of her but when it comes to this journey, that’s what stands out. She’s so thoughtful of other people no matter what’s going on with her. That kindness is what makes a difference.”

Giving back, planning for the future

Oncology patient Becca smiling outsideBecca missed her entire sixth grade school year due to treatment. Right when she reached her maintenance phase and was ready to go back, COVID hit and brought with it a year of virtual school. Thankfully she was still able to audition for and be part of the virtual Binford Dance Company, her school’s dance program. Now in eighth grade, she’s thrilled to be attending school in person again for the first time since spring 2019.

“Being able to be a normal kid and go to school is pretty cool,” said Becca. “I really just like being with people.”

Becca took her last chemo pill on August 26. As she prepares to transition to the survivorship program in the new year, she and her family have been in contact with patients who are just receiving their diagnoses and beginning cancer treatment. They’ve been grateful for those who’ve shared stories and guidance with them along the way and, though it’s hard for them to believe they’re at this point, they’re ready to serve as a support for others who are following in their footsteps.

Anne is also part of the task force working on operationalizing our new inpatient tower scheduled to open in spring 2023. Using her experience during Becca’s hospital stays and treatment, she has valuable insight into optimizing the patient experience and making the space family centric.

Meanwhile, Becca’s enjoying more time rollerblading, hiking, visiting the beach and stand up paddle boarding with her brother. She and her parents are also looking into options for synchronized swimming, combining her loves of swimming and dancing.

An arduous, yet heart-warming, experience

Now that the Chamberlains are looking at their scariest and saddest times the rearview mirror, they’re also recalling all the precious moments they experienced along the way.

“It’s been challenging. It has tested our limits, but in a way, it hasn’t been that hard because of the people,” said Becca.

Anne agreed, noting that Becca’s cancer has been the hardest thing she’s ever faced – including her own cancer journey – but it put life into perspective.

“We received so much kindness, compassion and love – from friends, CHoR, you name it. Our neighborhood is remarkable and has come out in force and lifted us up. With any challenge like this that you face in life, it offers you an opportunity to be the best person you can be. It also provides glimpses into the lives of others being their best.”

What they may not realize is the impact they’ve made – and continue to make – on others in return.

“Becca is one of the most incredible girls I’ve ever known. She is kind, creative and mature beyond her years. It was an absolute honor to sit with Becca during some of her most vulnerable moments and listen to her share her thoughts, fears and dreams,” added nurse Megan. “It always amazed me the insight and perspective she has, while maintaining her youthfulness and zest for life. I looked forward to the days Becca was scheduled to come to clinic. We shared so many laughs and tears throughout her years on treatment. I’ll forever cherish our bond.”

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