There’s no happy ending for the story of Derek Madsen, a little boy from California.
It all started in the summer of 2005 when doctors discovered that Derek had neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer that mostly affects children.
It was there and then that the fight for Derek’s life began. It was a fight that hit Derek and his mom Cindy hard.
A photographer asked if he could follow Derek’s journey, to show the world what cancer really looks like.
Cindy and Derek race down the corridor of UC Davis Medical Center. They’re waiting for Derek to have a bone marrow sample to see if he’s able to receive a transplant.
With all the time they spend at the hospital, they need distractions.
Cindy desperately tries to comfort her son after an extremely painful procedure. He began screaming and thrashing after waking up from the procedure.
Derek’s mom massages her son in a quiet moment. The cancer has now attacked Derek’s body and legs.
Cindy can not work anymore and takes care of her son full-time.
“I do anything to make him happy and to see him laugh.”
Cindy hugs Derek right after they get the news that he needs to be operated on. He has a tumour in this stomach that needs to be removed.
Derek and two of this friends stay at a hotel, for the first time in his life. His mom has arranged for a well-known basketball player to come and visit them.
Derek loves to scare his mom by balancing and walking along heights. He hates the hospital. It isn’t easy for Cindy to get him to go willingly.
Cindy and Derek’s brother, Micah, are there when Derek is anaesthetized before an operation. Then they have to leave the room.
Cindy tries to comfort Derek. The doctor tries to convince him to continue his treatment, otherwise he won’t recover.
He doesn’t want to.
He doesn’t care anymore.
Finally, Cindy succeeds in persuading him to drive her car. He laughs for the first time in a long time, but his happiness is short-lived.
Only hours after this photo is taken, they get the news that Derek doesn’t have long to live.
The cancer has spread and he has a tumour in his brain that has caused a black eye.
Cindy seeks comfort from her best friend. She has to stay strong for Derek’s sake. She has written a letter to her son describing how proud she is of his bravery.
She reads the letter to him again and again and hopes he can still understand what she’s saying.
April 28th, 2006 Cindy picks out clothes for her son’s funeral.
Derek is now completely emaciated, but a tumour has made his stomach so swollen that his pants barely fit.
Another tumour makes it hard for him to see and balance.
Cindy is by her son’s side 24 hours a day. She’s completely exhausted but doesn’t want to leave him alone for a single second.
The 8th May 2006 Derek is so heavily medicated that he can hardly speak. His life is coming to an end.
Two days later, it’s time. Cindy cleans her son’s catheter for the final time so that he can receive the anesthesia that will allow him to die pain free.
Family and friends gather around Derek one last time. Cindy hugs her son and whispers his favorite song in his ear.
Cindy knows that she has done all she can. But it wasn’t enough. The cancer won.
On May 19th, Cindy and Derek’s friends carry his coffin.
”I will always carry you in my mind and my heart,” his mom says at the funeral.
It’s impossible to see these photos and not be affected. So many families are torn apart by this cruel disease and so many die unnecessarily.
These photos prove how terrible this disease is, but they also show that in the middle of all the despair there can be glimmers of hope and happiness.
Share this harrowing series of photos with your family and friends if you were also moved and hope that there will soon be a cure for all cancer.
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