Childhood Cancer Survivor Celebrates Her Final Appointment at Cook Children’s
After more than 20 years in the Life After Cancer Program, Rebekah Tate has finally said farewell to her beloved children’s hospital.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. We salute Rebekah Tate and celebrate the evolving research that makes today’s medical options more promising than ever for pediatric oncology patients. #EraseKidCancer
By Charlotte Settle
The unstoppable Rebekah Tate is a proud graduate of Baylor University, a former Algebra 1 and IB Math teacher at Arlington High School and a current professional organizer. She is also a survivor of childhood cancer. On July 28, after 27 years at Cook Children’s, Tate celebrated her very last appointment as a Life After Cancer patient. Though it’s a bittersweet departure, she carries nothing but fond memories with her into her next chapter of survivorship.
When Tate was only three months old, her parents noticed a lump below her right knee. Her grandmother, who was a nurse, suggested they get it checked out sooner rather than later. Tate’s parents lived in Arkansas at the time and took her to Arkansas Children’s Hospital to have the mass examined. After performing a biopsy, the doctors found that it was a cancerous tumor. Tate was diagnosed with Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma (ARMS) — a cancer of the muscle tissue.
Shortly thereafter, Tate’s family relocated to Arlington and continued her care at Cook Children’s. Her surgeon, Mayme Richie-Gillespie, M.D., first attempted to remove Tate’s tumor via resection. The procedure was ultimately unsuccessful and the next best option for treatment was amputation. Though it was an extremely difficult decision, Tate’s parents chose to move forward with the operation.
At a little over four months old, Tate had her leg amputated from above her knee. Miraculously, the procedure worked and she was completely cancer-free from then on.
“I was born in November and it happened April 2. That’s what I count as my cancer-free date,” she said.
After her amputation, Tate completed three different types of chemotherapy over the course of nine months to ensure her cancer didn’t spread elsewhere in her body. In her 27 years since then, she hasn’t received any more treatment related to cancer.
“I was lucky because the chemo did its job in the sense that it was there to catch anything that might have spread,” she said.
When Tate went through chemo as a baby, she lost her hair and got sick frequently. Her main side effect since then has been dental issues, which her doctors attribute to her teeth still forming when she underwent treatment.
“I'm missing a lot of adult teeth and I still have baby teeth,” Tate laughs. “My dentist always says they're going to come out soon and I’m like, I don’t need to know that!”
After she completed chemo, Tate had routine check-ups and MRIs on her leg until she was about 5 or 6 years old. From that point on, she transitioned to the Life After Cancer Program (LACP) at Cook Children’s. Most of Tate’s appointments since then have consisted of routine check-ups and blood work — thankfully, she has remained healthy and cancer-free throughout the years. Now that she has graduated from LACP, her general practitioner will take over the care she has received at Cook Children’s.
Though Tate had been preparing for her last appointment at Cook Children’s for years, it was still an emotional event.
“When I walked in, I just assumed they would say they were going to keep me another year,” she said. “It wasn’t a happy or a sad moment. It was just an emotional moment.”
A Special Bond
A couple of months before her last appointment, Tate was notified that her nurse practitioner of 23 years, Lisa Bashore (PNP), would be transitioning to a different area of the hospital. Naturally, Tate was shocked and thrilled when Lisa made a surprise appearance at her last visit.
“She came to see me at my last appointment and I just started crying,” Tate said. “She’s the world’s most incredible nurse. It was such a big moment.”
Bashore took care of Tate since she started working at Cook Children’s in 2000.
“Rebekah always thrived and the sky was the limit. There were no limitations for that young lady,” Bashore said. She especially enjoyed getting to see Tate’s new prosthetic leg every year. “I just couldn't wait to see the new design,” she said. “She loved to show off her leg. I think that shows her resiliency.”
Tate laughs as she recalls Bashore constantly grilling her about wearing sunscreen.
“It doesn't matter what treatment they had, I always encourage survivors to be mindful of those general health practices that will potentially minimize the risk of relapse,” Bashore said.
Tate now wears her sunscreen every day — not just because she knows it’s good for her, but because Bashore cared enough to remind her year after year.
“Just her yearly piece of my life was a big piece of my life,” Tate said.
Bashore admits that watching Tate transition out of LACP was emotional for her, too. “I've been with her since I’ve been at Cook Children’s,” she says. “It’s been incredible helping her get through this.”
This isn’t the end of their relationship, though. Bashore keeps her door open to all of her former patients, offering them a space to chat and ensuring their needs are met with their new doctors.
“We just want them to know that we are here,” she says.
Even more than cancer, Tate feels her prosthesis has had the greatest impact on her life.
“It was really the leg that changed me, even though cancer was the cause,” she says.
Tate got her first prosthetic leg at 10 months old and has gone through about 24 total as she has grown over the years.
“I used to hate when people would come to talk to me about it because it made me different, but now it's something that connects me to other people,” Tate said.
Tate notes that Cook Children’s and her prosthetics hospital have always been in close contact regarding her care.
“At Cook Children’s, they always asked about my prosthesis,” she said. “Once I had to leave my children's hospital for prosthetics, they asked me if I needed help finding somewhere to go. So they’re very interconnected.”
When Tate was little, she didn’t understand that most kids who have cancer don't have prosthetics.
“When we went to events at Cook Children’s, I always expected to see other kids with prosthetics and I just never did,” she said.
In high school, she had a game-changing experience when she got to go on a trip with other amputees for the first time.
“It was a ski trip and we all skied in different ways — some sitting, some standing, some snowboarding,” she said. “Hanging out with people who had the same experience as me growing up was just powerful.”
Tate feels her prosthesis has allowed her to connect with people in ways she otherwise might not be able to. It has allowed her to form impactful bonds with others like her — including a student she would see in the hallway at Arlington High School who also had a prosthesis.
“I remind myself that I wouldn't have had so many opportunities or met so many people if I didn't have this challenge — or blessing,” she said. “I never want kiddos to have to go through that, but if they do have to, I want to be someone who’s there to check in on how they’re feeling.”
Cook Children’s Community
Throughout the years, Tate and her family found community, comfort, and joy through Cook Children’s events. They often attended “Celebrate Life” — a festival on campus at the hospital for kids who had beaten cancer and their families.
“It was a really cool event because normally when you come to the hospital, it's scary,” Tate said. “This was just all about crafts, food and fun.”
She laughs about the fact that there was a butt sketch artist working at the event one year. The sketch of her family’s butts still hangs in a bathroom at her parents’ house to this day.
For several summers, Tate’s family also attended Camp Sanguinity at Camp John Marc — a program designed specifically for children with cancer and their families.
“It’s built to accommodate kids who are going through any type of treatment,” Tate said. “We kind of built a community we could connect with over our experiences.” The patients’ doctors and nurses tagged along on the trip, too. “It was cool to get to grow with those people,” she says.
To Tate, Cook Children’s will always be the world’s most special place.
“When I go to my regular adult general practitioner, it's gray,” she said. “It’s so different at Cook Children’s, because it's bright and exciting and colorful. It's a somber place because people are struggling and in so much pain, but they work so hard to be there every step of the way.”
Because Cook Children’s has been such a special part of her life, Tate regularly contributes to the organization however she can.
“I watch their wish lists online and I collect a lot of soda tabs for the Ronald McDonald House,” she said. “Because they've done so much for my family and so many families, I’m always sharing on my Instagram story when Cook Children’s is in need of something. The money or the time that you’re giving is going towards incredible things to help kiddos stay alive.”
Though Tate’s cancer happened nearly three decades ago, it’s still a very sensitive topic for her parents.
“It's not fresh, but it was a big deal,” she said. “It’s a big shock, having that happen to your first kiddo. I can’t even imagine the decisions that they had to make regarding their newborn baby.”
Tate’s parents have been her biggest advocates and cheerleaders every step of her journey.
“They raised me in a way where they told me nothing could stop me or hold me back,” she said. “They always asked, how can we do it differently?”
Though it hasn’t been an easy road, her parents have found solace in connecting with other parents and families at Cook Children’s.
“That was a big thing for them, because there's no way you can handle that either by yourself or even with your spouse,” Tate said. “You have to have community.”
Adolescent and Young Adult Child Life Specialist at Cook Children’s, Lauren Bridge, speaks to the importance of holding space for families of those battling cancer.
“I love incorporating parents and siblings into the conversation,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just talking to a mom about questions a patient’s younger sibling has and meeting that sibling’s needs to maintain some sense of normalcy.”
Bridge works with patients — some teenagers and some closer to Tate’s age — who are still fighting their battles with cancer. She holds space for them to address their emotions, grapple with the concept of mortality and ask questions they might be afraid to ask.
“As they're trying to figure out who they are and develop independence, we're telling them they’re actually going to be stuck in a small room and not really given a lot of choices,” Bridge said. “I love convincing them to leave their rooms and go do something, even if it’s just a game of pool and a little bit of trash talk. I’ve found that during those walks down the hall, they really open up and I see a side of them I haven’t seen before.”
One of Bridge’s favorite things about her job is reconnecting with patients who have achieved remission and are back to living their normal lives — all of whom, like Tate, have gone through the Life After Cancer Program.
“LACP just really helps them go from being in true remission to transferring into the adult world of medicine, or really just out of oncology because they don't need us anymore,” she said. “It's so incredible that we help patients with that transition here at Cook Children’s.”
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