Miramonte Students Overcome Cancer

Lauren Dahlberg-Seeth and Helen Britto

Diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia, Becky Bauer spent a portion of their childhood in the hospital.

Cancer is the number one fatal disease among children, and seniors Becky Bauer and Adam Bacon are survivors; both diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a blood cancer, at a young age. In an exclusive interview with the Mirador, Bauer and Bacon share their experiences.

Mirador: How old were you when you first found out you had cancer?
Becky: I was in the second grade.
Adam: I was three when my mom realized I was easily bruising and had issues with fatigue. Luckily, my mom is a nurse and was alert to the symptoms, so I was rushed to a hospital.

M: How did you feel? At that age did you fully understand?
B: I didn’t fully grasp what was going on. I was mostly afraid because my parents seemed so upset.
A: I felt fine. I thought that everyone my age went through the whole cancer thing. I actually asked my brother when he would be getting his IVs and have his operations. Of course, he just looked at me like an idiot.

M: How were you treated?
B: I went through two and a half years of chemotherapy and had to live in the hospital for a couple months after I was first diagnosed. I had to get blood drawn every day, and about a week into treatment, I had surgery to get a Broviac Catheter installed in my chest. This tube allowed the doctors to easily draw blood and transfer medication into my body. After that, I started receiving daily medication that treated my cancer. It made me lose my hair and feel nauseous all the time.
A: I was treated at Children’s Hospital in Oakland. It was a pretty amazing time in my life, and I actually look back at it as some of my favorite years. I had chemo for about three months at the age of three. And then would have to have the same routine check up and spinal injections that Becky had. We both had the same type of cancer at roughly the same severity.

M: How did it affect your life at the time?
B: Immediately my whole world changed. I had to stop going to school and move into the hospital full time. I lost my spot in the community center play and my ability to see friends every day, and most importantly, I lost my hair. These things seem insignificant, but for a second grader, they were very self-defining. A lot of my friends visited me, and my teacher came to homeschool me. My favorite game was Guess Who and, after a while, my parents got tired of playing it with me, so the nurses would. Since I had to drink a lot of fluids, I wasn’t allowed to play unless I drank a water bottle.
A: It wasn’t too bad because I was a child. It wasn’t like I was being pulled out of school or anything. I got a lot of attention, so of course that is going to make any kid happy. I responded pretty well to the treatment, not a whole lot of negatives. The way that I passed the time when I was in the hospital was watching The Nightmare Before Christmas legitimately about 300 times.

M:: What was the worst part?
B: The pain and the constant feeling of nausea and fatigue. At first, I had to get a spinal tap every week, where the doctors would inject a needle into my back to test for the presence of cancerous cells, and that was definitely the most painful procedure. I also hated being on steroids, which I was treated with once a month. They made me really angry and crave so many different types of food. My parents would come home with random meals at my request like salmon, milkshakes, bacon, avocado, anything I felt like. Also I hated being mistaken as a boy because I had no hair. I remember one time I was shopping with my dad at the hardware store and the cashier said, “How are you doing, son?” I ran out of the store crying.
A: The worst part would be the anesthesia I had to receive. The feeling of going under isn’t very enjoyable, and when I had to have it every month, it really got to be a drag. Not to mention, when you’re young, everything looks massive, so IV needles looked like yard sticks to me. It’s not really something that you’re going to be fine with going into your hand. Also, the antibiotics I was on made me have this insatiable need for awful food, so I basically lived on hot dogs, BBQ Lays, and anything spicy.

M: How was the overall experience?
B: I became really close with my parents and sister and developed really good relationships with my doctors. I became best friends with my sister, Kelly, as she helped me through that experience. Even though the hospital could be really scary, she gave me brief glimpses of normal life. One of my favorite memories is when she would pull me in a wagon down the hallways of the hospital as I shouted for her to go faster. We would also hide in the elevators and jump out at people. She provided me opportunities to have a normal childhood, and I’m so glad she helped me through those times. At a young age I was forced to deal with a lot of responsibility. I always tried to interpret the results from my medical in an attempt to gain knowledge and feel a sense of security. So at a young age, I had a pretty big interest in medicine and science, and that’s one of my passions today.
A: I would actually say the overall experience was a good one.

M: Did you participate in Make-A-Wish?
B: Yes, once I was out of treatment and feeling healthy. At the time I was really into acting and wanted to experience what it was like to be on the set of a movie, so for my wish I got to have an extra role in the 2005 remake of Herbie Fully Loaded. I flew to LA with my family and was on the set for a week. I had my own director’s chair and met Lindsay Lohan, Matt Dylan, and Michael Keaton. Although my scene was deleted (Check out deleted scene #1 on the DVD!) it was such an amazing experience.
A: I went to Disneyland for my Make-A-Wish. Although, looking back, I wish I could have said, talk to me in like five years when I have more reasoning skills.

M: How did you feel when your cancer started going away?
B: On my last day of treatment my mom went out and bought me balloons and cake. We celebrated as I swallowed my last pill. Afterwards, I was relieved that it was finally over, but there was always this nagging fear that it would come back.
A: You don’t really feel anything when your cancer goes away. You just start getting less chemo.

M: Do you do anything cancer-related today?
B: Ever since I was diagnosed, I’ve gone to an oncology summer camp called Camp Okizu, which is a camp for kids both in treatment and in remission for all types of life threatening illnesses. The camp just provides regular, fun camp activities like swimming, hiking, archery, etc. and it’s funded through donations so it’s free. A lot of my friends there have prosthetic limbs or other types of handicaps. It’s fun to hang out with them and see how they’re able to adapt to their handicaps and lead a normal life. It’s been the highlight of my year since I was diagnosed because it gives me a chance to meet with people who have shared the same experiences and allows me to share my story with people who are still in treatment. Now that I’m 18, I’m going to spend most of my summer as a counselor there, and I’m really excited for that opportunity.
A: I go to the FACES medical program at Children’s Hospital, and occasionally talk to my mom’s patients at the Bone Marrow Transplant wing at Stanford, but that’s about it. Camp Okizu wasn’t really for me.

M: How has this experience affected your life later on?
B: I still have to go back for extensive checkups to make sure all the cancer cells are gone. As I get farther into remission, my checkups get farther and farther apart, which is good. I do have a really big interest in medicine and science now, and I hope that will inspire me to do something later in life. I also have this bond with all my friends at camp that is really special to me, and I hope that I can continue to attend every year.
A: Having cancer made me want to become a doctor. The way that my doctors took an absolutely awful time in my life and made it actually some of my favorite years in my life is something that I would actually like to be able to give other people.