The Story of Becky Smith
by John Accardo
When you think of pediatric cancer your thoughts likely turn to little children fighting a terrible disease; and while that’s certainly true it is not always the case. Pediatric Cancers are different than adult cancers and are defined by diagnosis, not age. This reality is no better realized than with Becky Smith this year’s honoree at the Northport St Baldrick’s event.
Growing up Becky was an athletic child participating in many sports including basketball, soccer and softball through high school and even coached league sports. She began college seeking to become a Phys-Ed teacher, but her dreams and ambitions were stopped short at the age of 19 by an unthinkable diagnosis; a mass on her Ulna; Ewing’s sarcoma, …Cancer.
She entered treatment at Stony Brook hospital in early 2004 undergoing the standard treatment protocol for Ewing’s consisting of 10 months of grueling chemotherapy comprised of several chemo agents. She also underwent bone graft surgery where bone taken from her tibia was transplanted to the Ulna and radius bones of her lower left arm. This transplant protocol was a vast improvement over amputation which was practiced in the past.
Becky entered a remission state and inspired by her treatment she changed direction to pursue a career in nursing. She enrolled at Suffolk community college to accomplish her prerequisite requirements and was then accepted into the nursing program at Stony Brook University. In 2009 after a 4-year remission she was dealt another blow when scans revealed a mass on her lung, her cancer had relapsed and metastasized to the lungs. Radiation of the tumors was not a viable option as there was great risk for pulmonary fibrosis, so instead a bone marrow transplant was planned using Becky’s sisters marrow; her sister was a full match. Prior to the transplant she was accepted for a clinical trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering in NYC in an attempt to shrink the tumors, but the drugs caused such neuropathy that she was unable to walk and ultimately her Stony Brook doctors insisted she stop or risk not ever walking again.
She received her bone marrow transplant at Cohen’s childrens hospital in 2009 which required a lengthy stay in quarantine. Unfortunately the transplant failed though it did slow the growth of the tumors and she continued to receive periodic boosts from the remaining cells. In 2011 a new mass was found in her arm and she began undergoing radiation treatment on it but her lung tumor growth began to accelerate. Becky being a very determined and strong willed young woman continued her nursing studies throughout this period, even participating in classes via Skype on her computer from the hospital’s oncology unit. She ultimately completed her degree program graduating with honors and passing her boards to earn her RN certification in 2012. Her fellow students even held a St Baldrick’s event for “Team Becky”.
Her battle continued on however, Treatments were not working and her doctors sought alternative or experimental treatments worldwide. M.D. Anderson center in Houston offered an experimental treatment of a 2-pill regimen but the realities of today’s cancer treatment and being an adult fighting a pediatric cancer began to take hold. Becky’s insurance would not cover one of the medicines and the other by itself was not effective, when Becky needed to go to the emergency room she was looked at as an adult; the doctors were unfamiliar and not specialized with her diagnosis or treatments. Pain doctors refused to give her the required pain meds and questioned her high tolerance of strong agents and the fact that she would ask for specific dosages, even though she was a trained medical professional, had been subject to aggressive medications for 10 years, and was considered terminal. She was also unable to actually seek a job in the medical field due to concerns over insurance; she could not risk any lapse in coverage or that another insurance company would not accept her.
Becky has been fighting her cancer for over 10 years, her doctors continue the search for a treatment that might be effective, but presently no treatment has offered this promise. At the age of 29 Becky made the decision to stop all treatment. She continues her valiant fight and is an inspiration to everyone who knows her. Her cancer is not from lifestyle or environment as adult cancers are; it is a pediatric cancer treated by pediatric oncologists, and is an example of why pediatric cancers in many cases still have poor prognosis. Pediatric cancers also affect young adults like Becky and a cure needs to be found.
JOIN US IN THE FIGHT AGAINST CHILDHOOD CANCER. CONTRIBUTE TO CANCER RESEARCH AT: www.stbaldricks.org