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posted: 12/25/2013 5:31 AM

'Healing tree' helps Elburn family deal with mom's cancer

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  • Karen Beith, center, with her husband, Bill, and granddaughters Grace, Gretchen and Gabby.

       Karen Beith, center, with her husband, Bill, and granddaughters Grace, Gretchen and Gabby.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • The handmade ornaments on "Becky's Healing Tree" keep the tree positive.

       The handmade ornaments on "Becky's Healing Tree" keep the tree positive.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Karen Beith and her granddaughters make ornaments for each holiday season.

       Karen Beith and her granddaughters make ornaments for each holiday season.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

The Christmas tree at Karen and Bill Beith's home in Elburn has been up since December 2012 -- and it's not coming down anytime soon.

Karen, a social worker, left the tree up after the holidays and renamed it "Becky's Healing Tree" in honor of her daughter, Becky Sweeney of Huntley, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer Dec. 21, 2012.

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For the past year, Becky's children -- Grace, 11, Gretchen, 8, and Gabby, 5, -- have been making seasonal ornaments with their grandmother for the tree.

"Kids have a hard time expressing themselves and preserving their feelings," Karen said. "(The tree) has become such a part of the house now. What it does is it affirms life."

Karen's grandkids were a little puzzled at first, but after last February, when they all made Valentine ornaments, the concept really took off.

Now, the kids are determined to keep the tree up until their mom gets better.

Grace Sweeney said her favorite decoration was when they adorned the tree in beach and sandal stickers. On a pair of flip flops, they wrote "heal" on it instead of "heel."

"I thought it'd be fun to do, to decorate stuff. I get to write down funny stuff to help my mom feel better," Grace said.

Gretchen Sweeney said she was confused at first.

But, "Once we started to see what it was and made decorations, I started getting it more. Now, I really like it," she said. "Every month, we have a new decoration. It's cool."

Becky and her husband, Brian, appreciate the tree and how it's helped their kids deal with their mother's cancer.

Becky, who will turn 40 next month, goes to chemotherapy every three weeks.

Doctors diagnosed asymptomatic cancer in her spine and then determined it had spread.

Becky has purposely told her doctor she doesn't want specifics on the cancer or her long-term prognosis.

"You don't want to take for granted any time you have together because this may be my last Christmas," she says. "I hope to have another 20 years but, unfortunately, it can turn on a dime."

The tree, she says, has been beneficial.

"They love showing me what they have made and the different phrases used on each ornament," Becky said. "It's definitely opened the door to a lot of conversation."

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