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Mother's grief eased by strangers' concern

Originally published July 31, 2006

Cyndie French of West Sacramento has been inspired and uplifted by the kindnesses of hundreds of strangers.

Since The Bee told French's story, "A Mother's Journey," in a four-part series that began July 9, French has been inundated with notes, prayers, gifts and financial donations. The gestures, she said, have helped sustain her as she grieves for Derek, who was 11 years old when he died May 11 of neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system.

"Everywhere I go, people have reached out to me," said French, a single mother who has four other children, ages 6 to 18. "I am seriously overwhelmed, and I feel so fortunate."

More than 600 readers responded to the series in letters, Web posts, emails and telephone calls. The series drew tens of thousands of page views on the Bee's Web site, www.sacbee.com, said executive editor Rick Rodriguez.

Readers touched by French's struggles sent her encouraging words, inspirational poems, offers of food and spa treatments, and money. As of last week, about $30,000 had been donated to a fund at Washington Mutual bank that French said she will use to pay off bills and debts, buy food and clothing for her family, and start a nonprofit organization that she hopes will offer practical, day-to-day help for others dealing with the rigors of cancer treatment.

"I'm very grateful, and I want people to know that I plan to be very careful with the money," she said.

In order to manage her son's illness and treatments, French had to give up her business, a tanning and nail salon, and fell behind in her rent, utility and other payments. She has not begun working again.

French had been worried about the numerous statements and bills from doctor's offices, hospitals, pharmacies and other medical providers that piled up during Derek's 18-month medical saga. But a spokeswoman for the UC Davis Cancer Center, where Derek received most of his care, said last week that the majority of those costs will be covered by Medi-Cal. "We are not expecting to send her any bills," said Claudia Morain.

French was relieved by the news.

"Now I can take care of other responsiblities, get my life in order and hopefully help some other people," she said.

Since Derek's death, French said, she has had good days and bad ones. As of last week, she had not mustered the strength to clean out his bedroom. "I go in there to feed his fish, and that's about it," she said.

"I feel his presence all the time. When I dream about him, he's smiling and playing like a normal kid again. He's telling me he's OK, and that just makes my day.

"Derek will always be my son, and I'm so honored to be his mom."

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