Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Beckham fan, 19, loses cancer battle
Soccer superstar Beckham sends family his regrets
Jan 31, 2007 04:30 AM
TORSTAR NEWS SERVICE
HAMILTON–This story started with a phone call, so it's only appropriate it ends there.
Except this time, instead of an international celebrity on the line, it was a McMaster student saying her class wanted to do something for Rebecca Johnstone.
You may recall Rebecca as the soccer fanatic who came to this city's attention last week through a tale about a surprise phone call she received from soccer star David Beckham in the midst of a particularly bleak period in her fight against cancer.
The brief conversation with her favourite player gave "Becca" a jolt of energy and a burst of life that'd been desperately needed after weeks of suffering through tough times.
Sadly though, the story doesn't have a happy ending. Rebecca slipped away Monday night after a long battle with melanoma. She was 19.
"His thoughts are with the family at this time," said Beckham's spokesperson, Simon Oliveira, adding the Real Madrid star had been made aware of her passing soon after it happened.
Today, it's difficult to see past the devastating loss of a vibrant young woman with oodles of talent and a million-dollar smile. In time though, her family and friends may find comfort in the fact that her story touched this city in a rare way and led to an amazing outpouring of affection, sympathy and generosity.
"It was something that was a lot larger than what anyone thought could happen," says her cousin, Bill Johnstone.
Offers of help and attempts to keep her spirits up seemingly came from everywhere. The Fortinos at Dundurn Plaza immediately set up donation jars that were soon weighed down with $20 bills. A Tim Hortons where a friend of hers works began selling paper hearts for $1 each to help the family. By yesterday morning, they'd already raised $600. And many others in the city made donations to a trust fund set up in her name earmarked to help the family get to Kentucky for some aggressive cancer treatment that isn't available here.
The ripples went much further than the city limits, though. The story was picked up by newspapers from coast to coast and discussed at length on talk radio. Major League Soccer called to see if there was something it could do. Toronto FC vowed to help. The Yale University soccer team sent an autographed T-shirt and pennant.
"It meant a great deal to us to reach out to her," says assistant coach George Kostelis.
Then it left North American shores through Internet blogs and Beckham fan sites, and went worldwide.
Immediately, people moved by her situation began reaching out to a girl they'd never met in a place many had never heard of. Calls and emails requesting information on how to make donations to the trust fund began pouring in from New Zealand, Scotland, the Netherlands and more. People even sent names of doctors and treatments they believed would cure her.
"I think it's understandable that there would be a lot of interest," her cousin Bill says, citing the combination of an international celebrity and a young girl battling a horrible illness. "But the amount of interest was unbelievable."
Which brings us back to that McMaster student on the phone eager to raise some money for the family and do whatever she could to help.
When she was told Rebecca had died, there was silence at her end for a long time. Followed by a stumbling attempt to say something.
Funeral services will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at St. John United Church in Hamilton.
Friday, January 26, 2007
To Rebecca, with love
David Beckham brings sunshine into a 19-year-old's very dark days
January 26, 2007
TORSTAR NEWS SERVICE
HAMILTON–The caller spoke in a soft voice, thick with an English accent. Brenda Johnstone thought it sounded familiar, though she couldn't quite place it.
"Can I speak to Rebecca Johnstone, please?" he asked.
Brenda didn't think it was a good idea. These are rough days for her daughter. The kind you pray you – and especially your children – will never see.
Her beautiful 19-year-old has cancer. Three years ago, a mole on her right collarbone that doctors kept telling her was nothing turned out to be malignant. By the time the truth was discovered, it had spread. Soon her body was fighting a losing battle against an enemy with no soul.
Heartbreak doesn't begin to describe the resulting anguish to those who love her. Particularly since doctors have told the family that, without some kind of miracle, time is now being measured in days rather than weeks or months.
So when that call came last Wednesday morning, Brenda wasn't about to disturb her sleeping daughter. Especially the day after surgery to remove a cancerous tonsil had made her even more uncomfortable.
No problem. The caller politely said he understood. He even offered to call back at a better time. Then he dropped the bombshell.
"It's David Beckham," he said.
"I just kind of went quiet for a second," mom says. "Then I said, `You've got to be kidding me.'"
Rebecca's aunt knows her niece is a huge fan. Has posters on her walls. Reads everything she can about him. Follows the English star's career. Loves the way he plays. Even shares a moniker. When she played, her teammates added an M to the end of her nickname, Becca, to make her sound just like her soccer idol.
So, searching for something she could do to lift some spirits, Aunt Jenny did some digging and found one of the star's representatives. Then made arrangements for a call, though she was never convinced it would actually happen.
Yet here he was on the phone. The same voice mom had just heard on TV as news of him signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy leaked out.
By now she was excitedly almost running through the family's East Mountain house. Her husband, Tom, nearly fell off the couch as she flew by and he caught wind of what was happening.
A former semi-pro player, he couldn't believe the call wasn't a hoax and started grilling her with questions even as they walked into Rebecca's room.
Their daughter was asleep. Gently rousing her, Rebecca said she didn't want to talk to anyone. Her throat was raspy and sore and she was in no mood for socializing.
"How about David Beckham?" mom asked. "Her eyes kind of popped."
And so she did. After three years of hell during which everything had seemed to go wrong and every attempt to make things better had only made things worse, the moment she put the phone to her ear, the dark clouds parted and a beacon of light flooded into her life.
In the most strained of voices, Becca and Becks talked about soccer. He asked how she was doing. Told her he'd heard she was a big fan. Even mentioned that he liked her nickname. He asked if there was anything he could do for her. When she said no, he asked if he could send her something. She didn't say no to that. Then he told her to get in touch if she needed anything.
Four minutes after saying hello, she wished him good luck this season and hung up.
But the story doesn't end there. The buzz from the call gave the entire family a jolt of positive energy it hadn't had in months.
"The house was electrified for the whole day," dad says.
And the next. And the one after that.
Even now as he talks about it and repeatedly expresses his gratitude for Beckham's "touch of class" that brought his daughter such joy, he lights up. Until reality bites again.
Rebecca isn't well enough to talk about the call now. Once a promising sweeper who made the elite Hamilton Sparta soccer club at 12 despite having never played the game before – and who was often the best player on her team after that – she's struggling. She has almost no voice and has been suffering through a few horrendous weeks.
But just when she needed it most, Beckham intervened again.
On Monday, a parcel arrived from Madrid, where Beckham has been playing. Inside was one of his authentic Real Madrid game jerseys. On the back, next to the number, he'd written: To Rebecca, with love, David Beckham, 23.
Eventually it'll be framed and hung in her room. But not yet. She wants to be able to touch it still. To have a connection to the hero who made a difference in her life.
Dad's using it a different way. As a motivation for her to continue fighting.
"I told her, `You get better and we'll go see him in person so you can thank him.'"
She liked that idea.
Pray that she'll get the chance.
How you can help
Within the next few days, Rebecca's family hopes to drive her to Kentucky for some aggressive cancer treatment not available in Canada. Her mom and dad say the costs could be as high as $100,000. To help defray the expenses, a bank account has been set up in her name. Anyone wishing to make a donation may go to any TD Canada Trust and use account No. 178-6302023.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
I give you this one thought to keep— I am with you still – I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow; I am the diamond glints on snow;
I am the sunlight on ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning rush I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quite birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do not think of me as gone – I am with you still – in each new dawn.