In August 2012, Cara Gwen Becker was diagnosed with Acute Promylocydic Leukemia. It came as a shock to her and everyone who knew her. It seemed as if one day she was healthy, enjoying Lollapalooza with her friends and family, and the next we were hearing the news that would change our lives forever.
Cara was admitted to Johns Hopkins hospital shortly following her diagnosis. She would often spend weeks at a time in the hospital, which gave her the opportunity to think about her life, her ordeal, and how lucky she was to have such a dedicated and solid support system to help and encourage her the whole way.
Karma for Cara was dreamed up in Cara’s hospital room. She knew how blessed she was for her diligent support system while so many others were battling alone. She knew how lucky she was to have all of the supplies she needed for her treatments and patient care. It was with this realization that Karma for Cara transitioned from a dream to a reality. To repay the hospital for all of its extra efforts and supplies for Cara’s treatments, a blood drive was hosted in Cara’s honor. The blood drive was an overwhelming success, stocking the Red Cross blood banks for several weeks. Friends and family came from all over to support Cara and the Becker family. It was instances like this in which Cara truly realized how loved she was. For Cara, this was only the beginning of Karma for Cara, and she began brainstorming all of the ways she could impact more lives. Her generous heart could never rest.
For those who knew Cara, they knew that life was not easy for her. She underwent many unpredictable complications in her life that would often go unexplained. When she was in high school, a routine operation ended with Cara in a five-day coma due to hypernatremia from her IV. Yet Cara never let herself drown in self pity. It was just the opposite. This is the place in which her spirit grew. She never let her struggles get in the way of her taking every opportunity to live greatly. This mentality acted as fuel for her as she so fiercely battled her cancer.
In her teenage years, she developed a personal relationship with the underdog, which motivated her to help others who had also struggled through a challenging life. She wanted to give them a hand and tell them to keep fighting. Cara became incredibly active in her community and giving back.
Cara fought with everything she had, but on December 30 2012, Cara tragically passed away after four months of battling her disease. Yet, it is important to always remember that she did not lose her battle to cancer. She won the second she decided to fight it, knowing the road ahead was going to be very difficult. Cara continues to serve as an inspiration to all who knew her and those who hear her story.
She wrote the following on November 22, 2012 in the midst of her treatment.
“Most people would say cancer is a curse, and terrible disease that can kill you. I agree with that statement, but know there is a lot more to it. Yes cancer is awful; and yes it could kill you, but me… I’m just not ready to go yet.
Back when I was first admitted to Johns Hopkins I had to stay for a month and felt like it was never going to end. All I wanted to do was leave, I felt trapped. Stuck in a small room, in constant pain and sicker then I’ve ever been. I thought there would never be an end. One of the hardest things was being at such an awkward age, I am 21 so that makes me too old for the pediatric ward, but too young for the adult ward. I was being treated with people well over the age of 40 and there was nobody I could relate to.
For that month I struggled with frequent bouts of depression. I couldn’t understand why such a terrible thing was happening to me, what could I have possibly done to deserve this torture? I found myself crying a lot and wishing there was an end to the sadness and pain that filled my body. One night my nurse came in to talk to me – I felt so alone, all I could do was cry to her. She told me that if I kept up with all this anger and tenseness that my insides would be tense as well and it would be a longer recovery. I stopped crying immediately and never looked back.
I started practicing meditation and yoga, I woke up each morning and smiled even if it was hard; I knew that I needed to be positive to save my life. With this new positivity my whole world changed. I learned quickly that the complaining and negative thoughts wouldn’t change the situation, so why not be positive. Why not have leukemia turn me into a better person?
I remember the first time I had go out in public with a mask on my face, everyone stares. People can be so rude and judgmental; they’ll ask the dumbest questions without even considering my feelings. I’ve never felt so insecure in my entire life. All of these experiences have made me a stronger person. I’ve learned so much about life, about true happiness, and the fight to live. I’m confident in who I am, and plan to start my own foundation to give back and help other leukemia patients. I have big plans for the world, I can’t wait to finally be healthy.”
Journal entries from Cara and her family
Written Aug 30, 2012 6:26pm
Today Cara underwent a 2nd bone marrow biopsy after a long 1st night of chemotherapy. It was a painful process but Cara toughed through it. Her spirits were lifted with some fun visits from family, and then lifted even higher with some well earned good news: Cara’s leukemia, Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia (APL), is highly treatable and the doctors are confident that Cara will be cured with 60 days of chemotherapy!!!
Written Aug 31, 2012 3:42pm
It has been another long night and day of treatment for Cara. Cara has donated some additional bone marrow samples to research. What can you do? Give Blood! Cara has had several transfusions and we think it would be nice to give some back. If you cannot give blood and still want to donate- please make a donation to The Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.
We want to thank you all for the outpouring of love, support and gifts. At the moment, please refrain from sending gifts and food. Cara would love cards and photographs!
You can mail them to:
Cara Becker (in-patient)
c/o The Johns Hopkins Hospital
Room #5A – 04
The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Building
401 North Broadway
Baltimore, MD, 21231-1146
Please keep Cara in your thoughts and prayers. We will continue to post updates to let you know what’s happening.
Written Aug 31, 2012 5:29pm
My 2nd day here was just as hard as the first, I’m currently only taking the chemo in pill form twice a day and the nausea is terrible. If I’m not sleeping I’m throwing up. About 20 min ago they finally found a medicine that worked and I can actually sit up and eat something. My doctor said on Wednesday I will be starting full blown chemo through my IV until it’s time to get a port. Wish me luck! I’m taking it one day at a time here. Please coordinate with my parents if you’d like to visit. And remember, being bald will soon be in fashion.
Written Sep 1, 2012 4:13pm
These have been an extremely tough few days for Cara. Right now, she is feeling a bit better, although she has many ups and downs. Today she took her first walk around the unit and even ate a late lunch. She is loving reading all your messages, they make her smile.
Greg has created a visitors and support sheet for Cara. Please go to the link to sign up for a spot. Remember, Cara may or may not be up to visitors when you arrive. Cara really appreciates all the postings from this site, please keep the messages coming. Please remember no gifts at this moment!
Written Sep 1, 2012 5:52pm
Today was the best day I’ve had so far here in the hospital. They finally got my nausea under control and I was able to smile and hang out with my visitors! I even got a special visit from Happy, my pup. I was able to eat and keep the food in! Thank you everyone for checking in and leaving these wonderful messages! Lots of love
Written Sep 2, 2012 5:40pm
Cara is continuing her treatments and today was a very difficult day for her as she is not feeling well physically and reality is starting to set-in about the tough road that lays ahead. Jill and Eric report: “We do all we can to keep her spirits up and support her through the toughest hours. We see willpower and a sly sense of humor, but also times of sadness and frustration or anger. Together we help Cara make progress and each day is a milestone on her 60-70 day mountain climb to remission.”
Cara knows that with the support of her amazing family and friends, she will be able to get through even the toughest of times. This is where you all come in…continue to post those messages on this site. She truly reads every single one of them and they are one of the highlights of her day.
Two things stand out as positives for today. First of all, Cara has expressed a huge amount of gratitude for the wonderful support and love she has received from her family and friends. Secondly, she got to have a brief visit from her dog “Happy”, who brings her so much joy and a much needed spirit-lift.
Eric, Jill and the boys have received many many texts, emails and calls, all with offers to help. It makes them realize how blessed they are in such a tough time.Here are ways you can help:
- Use the site to follow her progress. It makes it easy for us as we update it each day as anyone can follow it.
- Please know that the donate button on the site is to donate to CaringBridge… It’s not for Cara, Hopkins or leukemia. CaringBridge is a terrific non-profit which hosts this site and the Beckers have made a donation to support the website for all of us. If you want to make a donation in honor of Cara, please consider the Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. And be on the lookout for more information about an concert and golfing event in October that the Beckers and Sterling have supported over the years in support of the Kimmel Cancer Center.
- Please consider donating blood. Some people have already donated on their own and others are hosting drives in Cara’s honor. Again…we will post information about this as it becomes available. Cara has used a lot of donated blood…and the Beckers hope to put some back into the system. The blood they have used is marked with its origin and it has come from all over.
- Again…please leave messages of encouragement, love and support for Cara.
Written Sep 3, 2012 1:13pm
Thank you all so much for your wonderful support and well wishes. The outpouring of emotional and physical support has been truly heart warming. Cara especially appreciates everyone’s support, she is certainly feeling the love. Her blood counts came back positive and she is responding well to treatment. A lot of people have asked what they can do to help. Right now we are still getting our “sea legs” and figuring out an everyday routine for helping Cara. This is certainly a marathon and not a sprint, and I know we’ll need different things at different points along the way. One easy way to help is to post on Cara’s CaringBridge site. She loves getting updates and reading the notes people leave her. Cara’s has also been passing the time by watching funny youtube videos, if you come across any please post them on her facebook wall, CaringBridge, or forward them to me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Unfortunately Cara’s immune system is very depressed so she can’t take any visitors at this time. I’ve taken down the visitor calendar and spreadsheets. Cara may be able to take visitors in the future, but right now the doctors want to limit the risk of infection. While you can’t visit Cara you can certainly visit Eric, Jill, Jake, and I in the waiting room. One of us is always at the hospital and it’s a great pick me up to see a friendly face. Please pass along this message to other friends so we can get the word out. Thank you so much for all your support and help. It’s truly special to have such an incredible group of friends.
Written Sep 3, 2012 9:11pm
Good Evening Friends & Family,
Cara continues her very big climb to recovery. After a good night sleep, she awoke this morning to a rather rough bout of nausea & vomiting. However, around 3:30 she was feeling much better & was able to go down to the outside lobby to cuddle with her dog, Happy. Fatigue is beginning to set it now so the rest of the evening was spent close to bed but she was able to eat a little dinner.
Cara’s road to the top of this mountain will get more challenging beginning on Wednesday when IV chemotherapy will begin. Thus far it’s been oral chemotherapy in order to allow Cara to recover from her recent appendectomy.
As mentioned in previous postings, Jill & Eric would be grateful if friends & family would consider donating blood at your local American Red Cross blood bank. Cara has been (& will continue to be for a while) a recipient of donated blood so it would be wonderful to help replenish the supply for others. Of course, there are many places to donate but know that on September 11 & 12, The Johns Hopkins Hospital will be hosting a blood drive.
Thanx to all for your support & kind words &, yes, Skittles J
Written Sep 4, 2012 10:59pm
Good Evening Everyone,
This morning was a first… since admission to Hopkins 7 days ago, Cara actually felt good FIRST thing in the morning! A great start to a day of ups & downs with the reality of what lies ahead beginning to set in.
Tomorrow morning Cara will have her PICC line (a centrally located type of intravenous line that allows for chemotherapy treatment) inserted. Once that’s in place, intravenous chemotherapy will begin…. probably in the afternoon. Cara understands that she will be receiving very powerful chemotherapy agents but she is facing it with strength, determination & moments of humor.
Visiting Cara is still discouraged but… if you would like to visit the family in the waiting room, please text Jill before you head down to the hospital. As always, strict Purelling of your hands is a must…. even if you are in the waiting room.
As always, Cara is enveloped by love, support & positive thoughts from friends & family from far & wide. She LOVES receiving funny YouTube clips and reading your guestbook postings on her site. The family is deeply grateful to those of you who are donating blood to the American Red Cross and to those who are organizing blood drives to replenish blood supplies everywhere.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the dedicated & compassionate care of the nursing & medical staff….so… for those of you who would like to support Cara’s team of caregivers at Weinberg Unit 5A, a nourishing platter from Eddies would be wonderful (ask to speak to Steve at Eddies on Charles Street: 410-377-8040).
Good night. Sleep tight!
Written Sep 5, 2012 8:50pm
Wow what a day. The day started with tremendous stress and anxiety from the anticipation of the installation of the central line in Cara’s arm. An infusion tube that goes right to the heart. It has to be done in a sterile environment and requires imaging as it is threaded along. While the morning was really difficult, Jill and I took turns holding Cara’s hand during the procedure. Cara was so brave through the procedure and followed directions precisely. The result was excellent. Once the procedure was over, and everyone had left, it was just the two of us. “Dad, let’s get out of here”, Cara said, so we put on shoes and walked to the new Sheik Zayed building where there is a Balduccis. We bought chocolate covered peanuts (gluten free of course) and walked hand in hand. Cara didn’t have an IV at that time so she could walk freely.
Later Cara started IV chemo. She will get this three times over the next six days. We are told these will likely be the toughest days. Cara sat calmly and quietly as it was injected in the line. So far, so good.
Cara’s doctors, Dr. Judy Karp, and Dr. Catherine Lai stopped in. Dr. Karp goes off rotation tomorrow so she gave Cara a kiss on top of her head.
At this point, Jill and I stepped out for a few minutes and then Cara asked for us to come back and sit down for something really important. We braced ourselves. She then told us she loved us and that while we were out of the room she had called the Four Seasons Spa and booked us massages for Jill and me tomorrow at 1pm. And that she wanted to use some of her savings from her summer job to pay for them. We were stunned and emotional. But it wasn’t the only time Cara showed us something today…several times during the day she took some of her “bounty” of gifts and candy, and sent things to the pediatric floor or gave gifts to her nurses.
Next Grandma Rheda and Bobby stopped by and Cara did some MadLibs which had us laughing. I felt light like we were someplace else. Finally, Corbin came over and cut off the rest of Cara’s hair, which will be falling out over the next week. Cara felt she wanted to control when her hair went away. Older brother Greg and Cara’s friend Adam also shaved their heads in solidarity.
To close, a few things I have learned so far from this experience:
- “Bad stuff” is an equal opportunity employer. We have seen so many people at Hopkins from all walks of life. It just happens.
- We are so lucky to have Hopkins and Kimmel Cancer Center in our backyard. Cara’s unit is like the special forces…an elite group of nurses and doctors providing life saving care.
- Having a great plan based on what you can control rather than what you can’t is essential and comforting.
- This crisis has brought our family and friends together in a way I have never personally experienced. It is a true blessing and we are so grateful. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
We are adding some photos tonight of Cara before and after “the hair”. Today was a day of great highs and lows. Today we go to sleep grateful for a successful day and incredibly proud of our brave sweet Cara.