SURREY - Eighteen years is a short time to spend on this earth, but Tessa Beauchamp made the most of her time here.
The determined young woman who overcame severe burns as a toddler and then fought cancer as a teenager passed away from the disease Friday morning at the Canuck Place hospice in Vancouver. Along the way she never let her hardships get the best of her and served as an inspiration to all who met her.
"She was one of those unique people who had the ability to put other people at ease," said her father, Steve Beauchamp, who coached her with the Holy Cross Crusaders basketball team. "She was comfortable talking to people she had never met before and always seemed to be very empathetic with other people's feelings. She had a really unique way to touch people regardless of how well she knew them.
"She always had a smile on her face and was excited about whatever it was that she was doing. That was just the way she was and the way she approached everything she did. The tragedy of it all is she loved life so much and to have it last only 18 years is the tragic part."
The impact Tessa had on the Holy Cross community was on display on the evening of Jan. 14. With the help of Surrey firefighters, Tessa was moved from the palliative care ward in Surrey Memorial Hospital and brought to the gym at Holy Cross to watch the senior girls' final of the B.C. Catholic Basketball Championships. Although she had graduated months earlier, her younger sister Rachel played on the current Crusaders team, which was coached by their father, Steve.
Gianni Bitante, one of Tessa's teachers at Holy Cross, said Tessa was adamant that nobody make a fuss about her and strictly forbid him from announcing her name over the public address system. Her demands were irrelevant. With so many friends on hand for the game, it wasn't long before the gym rang with spirited chants from the crowd - "Strength for Tessa."
Stung by the emotion of the moment, the Crusaders struggled early in the game before recovering to win their sixth consecutive Catholics crown, 45-32 over Archbishop Carney.
"That was very emotional; incredibly powerful," Bitante recalled. "She was adamant that she not be announced because she just wanted to show up and watch her sister play. In a perfect world she would not want to be noticed but hey sweetheart, you're in a stretcher - you're going to be noticed."
Tessa's strength and determination were evident even as a tot. When she was two, she suffered severe burns to her back when her party dress caught fire as she stood too close to a fireplace. She battled back from those injuries and was active in the firefighters' burn camps for the rest of her life.
She caught the basketball bug at a young age and developed into one of the best players in B.C., earning a spot on the provincial under-16 team.
In 2008 she faced a much tougher challenge when she was diagnosed with a rare type of brain cancer. After undergoing two operations on the tumour, the cancer appeared to be in remission. Despite suffering debilitating side effects from radiation that robbed her of her hearing in her right ear and affected her vision, she was back on the basketball court with the Crusaders.
The cancer returned with a vengeance last spring and proved to be resistant to whatever doctors tried to arrest its progress.
"It was an aggressive tumour and it was pretty rare," Bitante said. "It was difficult to diagnose right from the start and that created a lot of challenges for the medical community. It was in a really sensitive spot in her brain and that made surgery difficult.
"What she went through the first time with cancer would have broken most people. She went through it and was stronger for it. She was playing basketball with an eye patch (to compensate for double vision, a side effect of radiation treatments) and she was hitting threes. That's the picture of her determination and who she is."
The cancer may have claimed her life, but her spirit lives on at Holy Cross and in the provincial basketball community. A memorial service was held at the school Monday and her funeral will take place Feb. 6 at 10 a.m. at St. Matthew's Catholic Church (88th Avenue and 160th Street). A celebration of Tessa's life will take place later that day at the Langley Events Centre beginning at 1 p.m.