Heartbreaking.
April 18, 2007 4:11 PM   Subscribe

A young mother and her son's losing battle with cancer in twenty photographs. Renee C. Byer of the Sacramento Bee is the winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Feature and deservedly so. If you find these photgraphs as moving as I do, let me just go ahead and point you to the National Childhood Cancer Foundation and the Hospice Foundation of America.
posted by Heminator (82 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. I don't even know what else to say. The mom is such a strong soul, and the child was so brave.

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posted by Verdandi at 4:21 PM on April 18, 2007


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posted by miss lynnster at 4:23 PM on April 18, 2007


Holy hell.

[this requires tissues]
posted by katillathehun at 4:27 PM on April 18, 2007


Frustating is the idea that we can do little against that. Even more frustrating is understanding that money isn't the problem, _will_ is.
posted by elpapacito at 4:30 PM on April 18, 2007


You guys should have seen this in print. The Sac Bee's committment to journalistic excellence is remarkable.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 4:33 PM on April 18, 2007


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posted by evilangela at 4:34 PM on April 18, 2007


Whoo. Please pass the tissues.
posted by ericb at 4:34 PM on April 18, 2007


The problem is neither money nor will. Young people will continue to die sometimes, it's just the nature of the world, we won't be able to fix this for a very long time. All the believing and struggling you like isn't really going to change this.

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Those photos were a tough read.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:35 PM on April 18, 2007


I work in cancer research, in my own small way. Day in day out I mostly deal with software and with numbers, statistics, probabilities. It's remarkably easy to stay completely detached from the human side of the disease.

Great journalism like this kind of brings it home. I would think it would make me feel good about my line of work, but really it's just horribly sobering.

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posted by gurple at 4:38 PM on April 18, 2007


Thank you for posting this.
posted by Dizzy at 4:41 PM on April 18, 2007


Heartbreaking.

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posted by smably at 4:45 PM on April 18, 2007


All the believing and struggling you like isn't really going to change this.

Course ! If the objective you set is that of reducing death to zero, good luck. It is also a convenient escapist excuse..that of not being able to definitely win death, so why bother. Sounds nihilism to me.
posted by elpapacito at 4:45 PM on April 18, 2007


"Feature Photography" Gah. Cleanup in aisle 60410 please...
posted by Heminator at 4:49 PM on April 18, 2007


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Man, that hurt to read through to the end.

For those of you with kids, you understand how much harder stories like this hit you.

It just doesn't feel fair.
posted by Parannoyed at 4:51 PM on April 18, 2007


That was powerful — overwhelmingly so. Thank you.
posted by WCityMike at 4:52 PM on April 18, 2007


God, that hurt. I hope their family is at peace.
posted by obeetaybee at 4:54 PM on April 18, 2007


I dunno, I'm full on bawling here. Face all wet. Those people are immesurably stong. I only hope we make good on these recent stem cell research progressions soon, for these kids.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:54 PM on April 18, 2007


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posted by parki at 4:55 PM on April 18, 2007


Anyone who has a child or is considering having a child should read this, we seldom know how to cherish a child, a story such as this puts it all in perspective.

My heart goes out to this family, this child's mother, and all those that loved him.

I lost my son when he was 20 years old. He died instantly in an accident he didn't cause, he suffered for moments, and, 17 years later I still have a difficult time dealing with this. This is so much worse.

I can not imagine the pain, the agony, and the sorrow that this mother is feeling, or the journey she will take to try and ever live her life.

What passion, what bravery, what humanity..

Thanks for the post... I think it changed my life!
posted by HuronBob at 4:58 PM on April 18, 2007


It just doesn't feel fair.

It isn't fair, and life isn't fair. I think of how much I love my kids and that if this happened to me, to one of them, I'd just shoot myself. I couldn't hack it. The sorrow would be too much, the injustice of it. We like to tell ourselves there's justice in this world but there is not, not in situations like this.

But you soldier on for the sake of the other child, in her case the other children, I guess.
posted by kgasmart at 5:03 PM on April 18, 2007


I had to stop at picture twelve, because I have children younger than this, and for pictures 1-11 if you'd called this a pictorial of a winning battle with cancer I'd have believed it, for all the smiling that child is doing.

Picture twelve, however, kicked my ass, and I'm done. Also, I am going to rest my arms for a bit so that I can be a massive hug machine when the kids get home in a bit.

also just warned my wife not to look at this.
posted by davejay at 5:04 PM on April 18, 2007


. . . ...........
posted by FritoKAL at 5:05 PM on April 18, 2007


Heminator .... e/mail me, address is in profile..
posted by HuronBob at 5:08 PM on April 18, 2007


Stopped by my second office to get a freelance project done. Thought I'd quick check in on MetaFilter before I left. Which I did. This post.

Heading straight home to hug three kids. Thanks for the reminder.
posted by hal9k at 5:20 PM on April 18, 2007


Yeah, we were talking about these over here in the Pulitzer post. Powerful stuff.
posted by veggieboy at 5:21 PM on April 18, 2007


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Thanks for posting this. There are no words.
posted by crinklebat at 5:26 PM on April 18, 2007


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Thank goodness I'm the last person in the office. My eyes are watering something harsh.
posted by C.Batt at 5:31 PM on April 18, 2007


Incredible.

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posted by fire&wings at 5:40 PM on April 18, 2007


If the objective you set is that of reducing death to zero, good luck. It is also a convenient escapist excuse..that of not being able to definitely win death, so why bother. Sounds nihilism to me.

Hardly.

I simply don't think it's fair to the people involved for you to say Even more frustrating is understanding that money isn't the problem, _will_ is. That implies that with more will, the child would not have died.

The point is that children do die, will continue to die, you can't blame it on a failure of will, of course we should work to prevent it when possible but sometimes with the best will in a world you'll lose a child.

The correct answer is not, "Our will failed so your child died," but, "I'm sorry for your loss."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:45 PM on April 18, 2007


Ow

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posted by The Power Nap at 5:52 PM on April 18, 2007


Cyndie's my hero.
posted by biosystem at 5:56 PM on April 18, 2007


I have been blessed to have cancer touch some that I love... and then retreat. These photos remind me how lucky I am to still have these wonderful people in my life. Heart wrenching, unimaginable. Thank you for this post.
posted by CaptApollo at 6:03 PM on April 18, 2007


More here.
posted by fire&wings at 6:12 PM on April 18, 2007


This was only the second or third time I have cried when seeing something on the internet.
posted by gagglezoomer at 6:13 PM on April 18, 2007


Jesus, that's heartrending.
posted by dazed_one at 6:16 PM on April 18, 2007


What an incredible person Cyndie is, and what an amazing mom. Damn.
posted by biscotti at 6:17 PM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Levity of any kind is probably inappropriate, but this sentence, from fire&wings' link, is pretty ill-conceived:

"Cyndie French kisses her daughter, Brieanna French Gates..."
posted by gurple at 6:18 PM on April 18, 2007


As a pediatric oncologist, I often times feel like I've shed just about every tear that I could possibly have. These photos, through their beauty, honesty and intimacy, managed to squeeze a couple of more out of me. This is a too-common scene as far as I'm concerned. Given recent federal budget cutbacks (video here) in funding for pediatric cancer clinical trials, I worry that it's not going to disappear anytime soon.
posted by scblackman at 6:22 PM on April 18, 2007


gurple... "Levity of any kind is probably inappropriate...." yep

Scblackman... you have my respect... anyone that can face that day after day is a saint.... hang in there....
posted by HuronBob at 6:30 PM on April 18, 2007


I honestly didn't think that the pictures would reduce me to tears...but they did. Damn. I can't even imagine the hell it would be to live through that, as a parent. Or the hell of knowing that your life - your barely-begun life - is about to end.

Dammit.

After seeing things like this, I take mental stock of how fortunate I am.
posted by davidmsc at 6:33 PM on April 18, 2007


The photos selected are so consistently good. It's remarkable how seldom I cry reading text online, and how easily these collections of photos draw tears even after repeated viewing.

thread about 2006 feature photography winner
thread about 2005 feature photography winner
posted by McGuillicuddy at 6:37 PM on April 18, 2007


As a parent this definitely hits you hard -- it's my worst nightmare. Cyndie is a strong soul. Pass the Kleenex.
posted by sharpener at 6:39 PM on April 18, 2007


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posted by stereo at 6:56 PM on April 18, 2007


Oh, dear lord.

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posted by tristeza at 6:58 PM on April 18, 2007


Levity of any kind is probably inappropriate

I passionately disagree. Imagine this photo series where the situation is reversed and the young boy accompanies his mother through all those same scenes. That was my childhood.

My family, including mom, frequently used humor as a coping mechanism for the world of suck we were in, and it allowed us to face and cope with a difficult situation that would not have been tolerable otherwise.

My best friend to this day was the one kid who at my mom's funeral did not give me the same old awkward "sorry for your loss speech" and instead pointed out that my mom was buried next to a guy named "Booger". Then invited me to a BBQ.

After dealing with 6 years of hospitals, chemo, and watching my mom fade away I fucking appreciated a good joke above all other sentiment.

But YMMV.
posted by jlowen at 6:58 PM on April 18, 2007 [11 favorites]


jlowen... I stand corrected..... thanks
posted by HuronBob at 7:08 PM on April 18, 2007


Wow, as a pregnant mother of a two-year-old, I really had a hard time going through those pictures. The mother and son were courageous, especially in allowing the world to see them. And to think that woman still needs to raise four other children, without a partner or income.
posted by acoutu at 7:25 PM on April 18, 2007


I buried both of my parents within 10 months, but grown children and elderly parents separating that way are more the norm, I think, and everybody putatively is ready for that. (YMMV there too; mine sure as hell did.)

Having already learned to suffer with the particular flavor of separation from my own son for three years now, I can scarcely imagine the agony of fighting for and then burying one. I grieve for this mom even as I salute her courage.
posted by pax digita at 7:25 PM on April 18, 2007


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Does anyone know about the foundation the mom is looking to set up? It would be awesome if a site like this could help her with some seed money.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:37 PM on April 18, 2007


I thought I had cried all the tears I had over VT this week, I guess not as I just bawled like a baby over these photographs.

This is why I'm bald. St. Baldrick's Foundation is just one charity devoted to cancer research but, it is a part I could help with. And, Colonial Beach Moose Lodge raised right at 10,000 dollars for research through our bald heads. (not all the funds raised are posted at this point.)
posted by SuzySmith at 7:40 PM on April 18, 2007


These photos could have been obscenely invasive, but weren't. There's something almost redemptive about their compassion.

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posted by YamwotIam at 7:50 PM on April 18, 2007


Thanks. I think. Hard to relive that shit.

But, yeah. Thanks.

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posted by OrangeDrink at 7:54 PM on April 18, 2007


Jesus, I literally feel like I've been punched in the gut. Those are some powerful photos.
posted by lekvar at 7:55 PM on April 18, 2007


Love to all..... All is fleeting.... Gratitude for each other.... Sad.... Peace..... Thank you.... we move on for a while.....
posted by swlabr at 7:59 PM on April 18, 2007


Here's a link to Derek's Wish, the nonprofit org that Derek's mom started to help other families in similar situations.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 8:11 PM on April 18, 2007


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posted by localroger at 8:14 PM on April 18, 2007


Heartbreaking.
posted by phaedon at 8:18 PM on April 18, 2007


wow. great photos, great mom, great kid.

I'm not sure I ever understood what "powerful photography" meant until now. these photos can turn stone into human flesh.
posted by ryanfou at 8:26 PM on April 18, 2007


Incredibly powerful photographs. What a brave boy, and a dedicated mom. These pictures were heartbreaking.
posted by Ostara at 8:37 PM on April 18, 2007


I'm glad I got a camera. There's so much we can show each other.

I have to say all the posts today were fantastic. I'm really thankful for metafilter. (pass the tissues)
posted by cowbellemoo at 8:40 PM on April 18, 2007


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posted by moonbird at 8:47 PM on April 18, 2007


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I'm crying after seeing that.
posted by mike3k at 9:05 PM on April 18, 2007


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Fantastic post. It's so good that I want to show other people; it's so sad that I'm kind of afraid to.
posted by supercrayon at 9:07 PM on April 18, 2007


I did not need to see this before going to bed but I really needed to see this. Thanks.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:29 PM on April 18, 2007


I lost it right about here. The way she looks into her sons eyes and the way he reciprocates reminds me of they way me and my daughter lock eyes.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:34 PM on April 18, 2007


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posted by mediareport at 10:14 PM on April 18, 2007


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posted by estherbester at 10:49 PM on April 18, 2007


Damn it; there are few things much worse than a big, bald, tattooed and pierced up guy with tears running down his face. But here I sit wiping my eyes.
posted by cdavidc at 10:58 PM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


"money isn't the problem, _will_ is."
Why so bitter?

"I hope their family is at peace."
I doubt it. I really do.
posted by arse_hat at 11:05 PM on April 18, 2007


Wow. That sure as hell deserved the Pulitzer, and just about every other possible photojournalism award. Amazing, amazing photos.

*Goes to rent Grave of the the Fireflies to cry even more.
posted by zardoz at 12:10 AM on April 19, 2007


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posted by greycap at 12:22 AM on April 19, 2007


I held it together until the last photo -- the casket. I knew what was coming but it still punched me in the gut.

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posted by hojoki at 12:53 AM on April 19, 2007


Scblackman... you have my respect... anyone that can face that day after day is a saint.... hang in there....

Funny you should say "saint". I couldn't help but think, in the case of the doctors/nurses who see this kind of profound suffering every day at the office, I don't know how one could harbor even a fleeting thought that there exists a just and loving god.

That said, powerful stuff. The Pulitzer is well deserved.
posted by dr_dank at 6:26 AM on April 19, 2007


I have no words, only tears.

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posted by widdershins at 6:56 AM on April 19, 2007


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posted by caddis at 7:05 AM on April 19, 2007


dr_dank: You bring up something very interesting, and something that I've given a great deal of thought to (I'd be interested in hearing delfuego's thoughts on this, BTW):

When I first started out in my fellowship, I was reticent to tell people exactly what it was that I did for a living, mainly because most people (8 out of 10, I suppose) would look at me like I just told them that my dog had been run over, or would say something along the lines of "How sad/depressing/tragic."

It turns out, however, that the pediatric oncology clinic is, for the most part, one of the most life-affirming places that I've ever been, which is why I enjoy working there so much. For one thing, the survival rates for childhood cancer are not bad. Taken as a whole (all cases, all diseases) close to 70% of children with cancer survive. This is a remarkable leap from just 30 years ago. So while it is true that there is a good deal of suffering in this corner of medicine, there is on balance, a large amount of triumph (a hard won remission, a kid who pulls through a stay in the ICU, a last-minute stem cell transplant, a long-term survivor who goes on to have their own children).

I find that I feel most "alive" when closest to these types of patients, and if you talk to enough oncologists, you'll find that some find these interactions to be the most "spiritual" or "holy" in all of medicine. There is something quite awe-inspiring and humbling about being in the presence of people who are facing death, or who have returned from the brink of it. If I were a religious person, I'd probably be inclined to say that a supreme being probably has a hand in it.

How you cope has a lot to do with how you look at things, and in the case of my patients and their diseases, I always look for whatever small of joy, hope or happiness I can find, no matter how bleak or dismal things may seem.
posted by scblackman at 7:34 AM on April 19, 2007 [5 favorites]


Very insightful, thank you scblackman.

I have no interest in rehashing the AS controversy here and I'm sure you don't either, but is the scene depicted in picture 18 a common, but quiet part of the hospice experience, scblackman?
posted by dr_dank at 8:02 AM on April 19, 2007


Thank you so much for that, schblackman. And thank you Heminator for posting this. Heartbreaking and incredibly moving. What could have easily been crass was instead hugely evocative and worth viewing. The strength of that mother is incredible - the strength of parents is a force that is beyond comprehension to some of those who don't have kids...

And cdavidc, an image of a big, bald, tattooed and pierced up guy with tears running down his face would just make me want to hug him. Nothing wrong with showing emotion.
posted by rmm at 8:21 AM on April 19, 2007


dr_dank: In a word, yes. Death can be an unpleasant process at times, at least when viewed from the point of view of the living. One of the "symptoms" of dying - air hunger - is very disturbing to watch and I'm sure it's equally difficult for the dying. As oncologists and physicians, we take very seriously the goal of trying to provide a "good death" for patients and their families. Remember, that while the dying patient won't complain years later (we hope), the family will carry around the vision of their child or loved one dying for the rest of their lives.

We palliate the symptoms of dying - pain, agitation, air hunger, respiratory distress - with narcotics and sedatives (benzodiazepines) based on our observation of the patient. Dying patients can be non-responsive and unable to provide a subjective response, and so we're forced to titrate medications until there is an objective response. You walk a thin line: overtreat and you could potentially hasten death. Undertreat and you prolong suffering. Most of us accept the risks of the former. If you're interested in this topic, you may want to read more about something called the Principle of Double Effect as it applies to palliative care.
posted by scblackman at 8:27 AM on April 19, 2007


Definitely the best of the web. Like everyone else in this thread, I'm grateful for the corner office that's out of the way, a quiet place and some tissues.
In looking at these photographs, I thought of St. Francis's prayer: For it is in giving that we receive, but not in dying, we are born to eternal life.
Somehow, this is a story of giving on all sides, not the least of which is the gift to the viewing public.

To paraphrase SuzySmith, it's been a rough week, but thank you, Heminator.
posted by lilithim at 9:30 AM on April 19, 2007


Derek fires back: "I don't care! Take me home. I'm done, Mom. Are you listening to me? I'm done."

Damn. Too fucking young.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:53 PM on April 19, 2007


C_D, that's the photo/quote that got me. Too fucking young indeed.
posted by deborah at 7:47 PM on April 19, 2007


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