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Dying A Day at a Time

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Renée C. Byer of the Sacramento Bee won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography in 2007 for her series "A Mother's Journey." The photos chronicled the final year in the life of 10-year-old Derek Madsen, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare cancer that affects 1 out of every 100,000 children. Derek's mother Cyndie French was by his side constantly during this period. The portrait of the mother-child relationship that emerges from the photographs is intimate, uncomfortable, and ultimately devastating.

Byer, who grew up in Rosendale, is the 2010 Ottaway Journalism Fellow at SUNY New Paltz. She says of her experience shooting Derek and Cyndie for a year: "In a situation like this, your instincts as a person are to try to help," says Byer. "But as a journalist, you have to step back and let things unfold as they naturally would. It can be very painful. I was documenting a story that needed to be told, and it was a gift to be allowed to be there."
"A Mother's Journey," along with other early and recent photographs by Renée C. Byer, will be exhibited at the Samuel Dorsky Museum at SUNY New Paltz January 30 through April 11. (845) 257-3844; www.newpaltz.edu/museum.

Waiting at Full Speed: Racing barefooted after kicking off her flip-flops, Cyndie French pushes her son Derek Madsen up and down hallways in the UC Davis Medical Center, distracting him before his bone marrow extraction on June 21, 2005.
  • Waiting at Full Speed: Racing barefooted after kicking off her flip-flops, Cyndie French pushes her son Derek Madsen up and down hallways in the UC Davis Medical Center, distracting him before his bone marrow extraction on June 21, 2005.

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