Holy Cross Basketball Star Tessa Beauchamp Loses a Courageous Struggle with Cancer at Age 18 Jan 28, 2012 - By Howard Tsumura - The Province Province sports reporter Howard Tsumura has been writing about the courageous character of Surrey teenager Tessa Beauchamp throughout her near-four year battle with cancer, a span in which the high school basketball star, 2011 graduate of Holy Cross Secondary and Head of the Class honouree has impacted thousands of lives with a spirit so unflappable and a soul so selfless.
In the early morning hours of Friday at Canuck Place, just a few weeks shy of her 19th birthday, Tessa finally succumbed to her illness. Today, Tsumura pays tribute to a girl whose fight and whose smile inspired everyone fortunate enough to cross her path.
SURREY - This is a story that needs to start in the gymnasium at Surrey’s Holy Cross Secondary School, because for Tessa Beauchamp, it became her harbour, the place where she could go to calm her storm and be surrounded by all the things she held closest to her heart.
It was the place where dad Steve had coached her on the senior varsity basketball team. The place older sister Amy also played and now helps coach the junior girls team. The place where younger sister Rachel now plays on the senior team. The place where mom Wendy could take her seat in the stands after a day of work in the school’s classrooms.
But it was also the place where a school’s staff and student body could assemble to celebrate a sense of extended family, one which even in Tessa’s darkest hours, still owned the pull of her inner compass.
And three Saturday’s ago it was that very pull which brought her back to the old gym, packed on this night well beyond its capacity, just the way Tessa liked it best.
The occasion was the B.C. Catholic Schools Basketball Championships, and her Holy Cross Crusaders were playing in the final against the Archbishop Carney Stars.
Cancer be damned, it was only one place she wanted to be that night, and if that meant she had to be wheeled into the gym on a hospital stretcher which would serve as her courtside seat, then so be it.
For one more evening, at least, she could look around and see that all of her stars were aligned.
On Friday, as news of her passing filtered through both the Holy Cross family and the B.C. basketball community, it was Tessa’s final act of single-minded purpose that seemed to resonate most with all of those she touched in a vibrant life cut achingly short at age 18.
“Tessa simply belongs in this gym,” said Gianni Bittante, her former science teacher. “When I walked in that night, I could feel it, that this was her home in so many different ways. Her entire family is intertwined here. For her to show up at the tournament was a real powerful experience. She is bigger than life around here.”
Added Rachel Johnston, a close family friend who has known Tessa since she was a toddler, and who coached her on the Holy Cross volleyball and track teams: “The atmosphere was palpable. They chanted for her. They chanted ‘Strength for Tessa’ and it was amazing to see that, to feel that.”
A LEADER BY EXAMPLE
Despite two major surgeries, performed less than a year apart to remove a cancerous tumour near her brain, the second leaving her deaf in her right ear, Tessa never wavered from her dream of wanting to play major-level university basketball in Canada.
Last spring, she was announced as part of this current season’s incoming class of CIS recruits at Langley’s Trinity Western University, where head coach Cheryl Jean-Paul immediately recognized not only the quality of player she was recruiting, but the quality of person.
“There are a lot of people who choose to define themselves by what holds them back in life,” Jean-Paul said in reflection on Friday. “Tessa refused to do that. She was very blunt with me when she came here on her recruiting visit. She said 'My cancer is back, there might be a battle ahead, but it is something I am prepared to go up against.’ I was in awe of her. What an incredible kid. She even e-mailed me a few weeks ago to wish me a Happy New Year.”
Jean-Paul said both she and Tessa were taking a wait-and-see attitude, monitoring her health with the hope that treatments or remission would allow her to enroll in school and begin to build her strength back to the point where she could join the team. It never happened.
Yet when a time line of her battle with cancer from its first diagnosis in March of 2008, through its many rounds of remission and reoccuruence, is placed against a time line of her athletic accomplishments over the same time frame, the frequency of those intersections produce a body of moments which define a young woman’s courage and soul.
Like the times in the fall of 2009, when Tessa, so weakened by radiation treatments, would bring a pillow into the gymnasium so she could lie on the floor and watch her teammates play their volleyball matches.
Or when she told her dad in December of that year that she would get her starting spot back on the basketball team, even though she had barely practiced, wasn’t remotely fit, couldn’t hear if a defender was approaching on her right side, and was experiencing double- and sometimes triple-vision on the court.
The answer? It came in typical Tessa fashion, with not a hint of pity and all the pluck of a warrior. All of that and an eye patch did the trick. By March she had led the Crusaders to seventh place at the B.C. Double A championships.
HONOURING HER SPIRIT
So many B.C. high schools were busy with exam week on Friday.
That was the case at Port Coquitlam’s Archbishop Carney Secondary, where senior girls basketball coach Joel Ditson, a first-hand witness to Tessa’s final night in the Holy Cross gym, spoke to the magnitude of her influence.
“Growing up in the Catholic community, some of the girls knew Tessa well,” Ditson said. “I know for instance we’re writing exams in our school today, and I don’t know how some of those girls are going to do it, because they’re crying their eyes out right now.”
At Holy Cross itself, a girls basketbal tournament had been scheduled to begin Friday, and both Bittante and assistant coach Ryan Tyrrell had gathered the team together before noon to help the players cope with the news of Tessa’s passing.
“There is just a real powerful respect for Tessa’s feelings here,” admitted Bittante. “She would have expected us to play, and so we will. We had thought about cancelling the tournament, but Ryan said he wouldn’t want to have to be the one to explain to Tessa that we didn’t play because of her. She simply wouldn’t have accepted that.”
And so the games went on this weekend, in the place that had become her harbour.
By the summer of 2009, Tessa knew her cancer was back. Yet a second surgery was postponed so she could try out for the B.C. Under 16 team, a collection of the best dozen 1993-born players in the province.
“Tessa was a huge part of that team,” remembers head coach Frank Chan. “That summer, we toured in Las Vegas and Oregon and for a month-and-a-half, it was just all of us together. Tessa always made sure that the rest of us kept everything in perspective. Everybody knew what she was going through, but when we needed her, Tessa was always one of our best players.”
And that is saying a lot because 10 of the 11 other players selected to that team are playing at CIS schools this season.
Yet more than the substantial skills she brought as an all-around 5-foot-10 player, Tessa had an innate understanding of what it meant to be a part of something greater.
“I think first and foremost, she was a teammate before she was a basketball player,” continued Jean-Paul. “Anyone who has been a part of a team understands that is a dynamic you can’t really put into words. And while she was going through things that we can’t even fathom, she still allowed us to be a part of her journey.”
The news of her passing rocked former teammates, including ex-B.C. Under-16 mates Cassandra Knievel, Alyssa Binns and Adrienne Parkin, all of whom now play for the UBC Thunderbirds.
Knievel, a Nanaimo native who boarded at the Beauchamp home in 2009 while trying out for the B.C. team, grew to become one of Tessa’s dearest friends, and she admitted Friday that she played in the 'Birds game against visiting UBC Okanagan with a very heavy heart.
“I went to see her on Monday at Canuck Place,” said an emotional Knievel. “I stayed for two hours, and if Wendy and I joked about something, we would see Tessa smile, so I know she was there. Anybody who knew her was just a better person for it. When I said goodbye to her, she opened her eyes and she said she loved me. I said 'I love you, too.’”