Racing barefooted after kicking off her flip-flops, Cyndie pushes her son Derek Madsen, 10, up and down hallways in the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento on June 21, 2005, successfully distracting him during the dreaded wait before his bone marrow extraction. Doctors want to determine whether he is eligible for a blood stem cell transplant, his best hope for beating neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer, which was diagnosed in November 2004.
Cyndie French, embraces her son, Derek Madsen, 10, on July 25, 2005, after learning Derek needs surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his abdomen. The emotional impact is taking its toll on her. “How can anyone maintain a nine-to-five job and do this?” she begins to wonder.
Derek Madsen, 10, gets a soothing massage from his mother, Cyndie French, at her Sacramento nail and tanning salon.. "I’m going to do whatever it takes to make him happy, to see him smile." Cyndie says. A single mom of five, Cyndie had to give up her salon at a financial loss to care for her dying son.
Derek playfully taunts his mother as Cyndie tries to coax him down from a wall outside the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento on July 27. They are there to admit Derek for cancer surgery the following day.Cyndia, who understands Derek’s emotional meltdown before procedures, spends hours getting him in the door of the hospital.
Shortly after his 11th birthday and Cyndie’s 40th, Derek is comforted by his brother Micah Moffe, 17, left, and mom Cyndie, right, as he gets a tattoo in preparation for radiation therapy on November 30, 2005.. Micah often accompanies Derek to treatments even though his schoolwork suffers.
On February 6, 2006, one of Derek’s cancer doctors recommends Cyndie contact hospice workers. She doesn't tell Derek about the conversation, but retreats behind a closed door at home to cry. "I don't think it's important to tell him," she says. "Why? What for?“ Sensing her sadness, Derek tries to cheer up his mom.
Realizing that Derek may never have an opportunity to get his driver's license, something he's told her he is anticipating, Cyndie French defies the rules and lets him drive up and down their street in West Sacramento. On the same day, Feb. 9, 2006. Cyndie met for the first time with hospice workers, and learns there is little time left for Derek.
Derek is tearful as Cyndie tries to reason with him at the UC Davis Cancer Center on Feb. 14, 2006. She and Dr. William Hall argue that Derek should have a series of radiation treatments to shrink tumors spreading throughout his body and alleviate his pain.. "Derek, you might not make it if you don't do this," Cyndie tells her son. Derek fires back: "I don't care! Take me home. I'm done, Mom. Are you listening to me? I'm done."
Cyndie always tries to have something at hand to take the sting out of her son, Derek's doctor appointments. On March 8 after undergoing radiation treatment, they make the most of a dollar can of Silly String - and Cyndie then meticulously cleans up every bit of the stuff from the ground.Cyndie is a big fan of the Dollar Store.
Cyndie consoles her best friend, Kelly Whysong, left, on April 24, 2006, Fearing Derek's time is near, Cyndie wrote a letter to Derek about how brave he's been during his battle with cancer. She reads it to her youngest son repeatedly, hoping he can still understand.
After placing a flower beside her son’s head, a sobbing Cyndie drops to the
floor on April 25, as her best friend, Kelly Whysong, left, and another friend, Nick Rocha, comfort her. Derek is too weak to acknowledge his mother’s presence as she keeps a 24-hour vigil by his bed.
Derek has a final burst of energy after days of Cyndie keeping vigil at his bedside. She helps her anguished son walk on April 26. A cancerous tumor has distended Derek's stomach so far that his pants no longer fit. Another tumor in his brain impairs his eyesight making navigation difficult inside their rental home.
Derek refuses to take pain medications because he fears further damage to his organs. He rages at his mother on April 28, blaming her for not making him healthier. "You have to calm down and help me help you," Cyndie says.
On May 1, after days of little sleep while caring for Derek, Cyndie confronts longtime family friend “grandpa” Patrick Degnan, about whether he'll be able to help with rent and funeral expenses as Derek is caught in the middle. Cyndie hopes to set up a non-profit organization so families don't have to endure the same financial struggle and chaos they have experienced. “I just wish that some of the percentage of money that goes to cancer research can be diverted to families going through this because many people will never benefit from the research,” says Cyndie.
Derek kisses his mom at the Relay for Life benefit, as his 6-year-old sister, Brianna, stands by. Wanting to contribute something to the cause and to “give back,.” Cyndie recruited volunteers for the benefit. Before the race, Cyndie speaks to the crowd about her pride in her son’s bravery during his battle with cancer.
Cyndie holds Derek on May 8. He is on medication that hinders his speech and keeps him awake at night. Except for a few minutes while hospice nurses are with him, Cyndie spends nearly every moment of the day at his side.."I was exhausted beyond belief but I had to do this. He would call my name and always expects me to be there," Cyndie said.
In an effort to get Derek outside, Cyndie wheels him through the front door passing by artwork and cards given to her son by classmates at Bridgeway Island Elementary School. “Just like a newborn, he needs to get out and get some air,” she says. It was his last trip outdoors.
Cyndie French fights her emotions May 10, as she prepares to flush out Derek's catheter with saline solution before hospice nurse Sue Kirkpatrick, left, administers a sedative that will give the 11-year-old a peaceful death. "I know in my heart I've done everything I can," Cyndie says.
Cyndie rocks her dying son as the song, "Because We Believe," plays on a cd. She sings along with Andrea Bocelli in a whispery voice. “Once in every life/There comes a time/We walk out all alone/And into the light…” From left, family friends Ashley Berger, Amy Morgan and Kelly Whysong offer comfort as Cyndie tells Derek, "It's OK, baby. I love you, little man. I love you, brave boy. I love you. I love you.“ Derek died soon after in his mother’s arms on May 10, 2006.
Cyndie leads Derek's casket to burial with assistance from her sons Anthony Moffe, foreground, Micah Moffe, opposite him, and Vincent Morris, who is not visible, as well as several friends. "I will forever carry your memory in my heart and remind others to give of their time, energy and support to other families like ours," Cyndie says at the funeral. Derek was buried in Mount Vernon Memorial Park in Fair Oaks, California, on May 19, 2006.