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Bradley Hilltopics

Fall 2007 • Volume 13, Issue 4

A Mother's journey I A chance meeting I The journey begins I Frame and click

Image from June 2005

This June 21, 2005, photo shows Cyndie French wheeling her son, Derek Madsen,
who suffered from a rare childhood cancer, through the corridors of the UC Davis Medical Center,
in an effort to distract him before his bone marrow extraction.
Photo © Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA

"It's hard to stay with the big vision when you’re in the eye of the storm every day,” said Renée C. Byer ’80, who recently won journalism’s top award, the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for her black and white photos in “A Mother’s Journey.” Indeed, Byer, a Sacramento Bee senior photojournalist, along with Sacramento Bee staff writer Cynthia Hubert, worked in the eye of the storm as they spent a year chronicling the life of a single mother and her 10-year-old son as he battled cancer. Bradley’s first graduate to earn a Pulitzer used her lens to show others the devastating effect cancer has on every aspect of a family’s life. In photographing the real moments of the disease, the series captured images of the ultimate horror one family endured. With recent studies estimating that one in three Americans will confront cancer at some point in their lifetime, Byer said, “I wanted to show what it is truly like for families battling cancer.”

Fate may have played a part in the unlikely meeting of Byer and Cyndie French in May 2005 at the Sacramento Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Out of a sea of thousands of people, Byer took a photo of French with her five-year-old daughter, Brieanna, believing she was possibly a breast cancer survivor. After speaking with French, a single mother of five children who ran a nail shop and tanning salon, Byer quickly discovered that she had a son suffering from neuroblastoma, a rare form of childhood cancer.

“I was immediately inspired by a woman who was giving back, volunteering at the race, when she herself was struggling financially and emotionally with her own little boy,” commented Byer. “I had empathy for her situation.”

Since Byer was on deadline for another photo, she couldn’t spend much time with French. Instead, several hours later as she was leaving the race, Byer noticed French and her daughter in the crowd again, rolled down her car window, and called, “I’m not going to forget you. I’m going to give you a call.” Byer added, “This brought a smile to Cyndie’s face because she was kind of down.”

A Mother's journey I A chance meeting I The journey begins I Frame and click