A month ago, Melissa Deschaine's 2-year-old son was being treated for a rare form of cancer.
While he underwent chemotherapy, Deschaine went on unpaid leave from her job as a nurse. She fell behind on her bills and was being evicted from her Port Richey home. She was unsure where they would go.
And then she received an outpouring of support from strangers who read about the family's plight May 13 in the Pasco Times.
The Deschaines have received $13,000 through donations and fund-raisers. Devin is having surgery this fall at a cancer center in New York. And the two have settled into a condominium donated to them rent-free for a year.
"This is really great," said Deschaine, 20. "You always hear that there's bad people in the world, but you don't realize there's so many nice people out there, too."
• • •
In April, Deschaine and her mother noticed that Devin had a limp.
Doctors at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg initially suspected leukemia, but tests showed Devin was in the most severe stage of neuroblastoma.
The rare form of cancer caused tumors on his spine and adrenal gland, and spread to his hip bone and bone marrow. His chances of survival are 30 to 40 percent.
Soon, Devin began hour-long stints of chemotherapy every other week, which will continue for a few more rounds. The treatments caused his dark brown hair to fall out.
"They tested his bone marrow, and it came back that it's significantly better," Deschaine said. "He is responding wonderfully."
Deschaine quickly burned up her six days of vacation at work, however, before going on unpaid leave. Soon she couldn't make the rent. One of the people who read about Deschaine facing eviction was Mary Hilbish, property manager at Harbor Oaks Condominiums in Hudson.
Hilbish faxed the Times story to the property's owner. She asked if the condominium's management company, Oak Trail Apartments LLC, could foot the bill for one year's rent for Devin and his mother.
"It struck a chord," Hilbish said. "Your children are precious."
The property owner agreed to pay $695 per month until next May for the two-bedroom, two-bathroom condominium.
"When I got the call from Mary, I started bawling," Deschaine said. "I couldn't even talk. … I was hoping for a little help, but this is way beyond what I hoped for."
• • •
While Deschaine got used to her new place, strangers organized fundraisers to help Devin and his mother stay financially afloat.
There was a car wash sponsored by a Port Richey racquet club. A concert put on by a group of Clearwater doctors. A bike show at a Tarpon Springs Moose Lodge.
Devin's babysitter, Heather Mendaros, held a yard sale last month, planting signs around her Holiday Hills neighborhood that read "Benefit Yard Sale for 2-year-old with Cancer."
Some people didn't have time to stop and shop, so they dropped things off for Mendaros to sell.
Living room sets. Baby clothes. Lawn furniture.
"We couldn't fit in my yard anymore," Mendaros said. "We used my yard and a neighbor's, and then had to move to a vacant lot. I was completely overwhelmed."
The sale raised about $2,000 in three days.
• • •
Devin will have surgery in August to remove his tumors. He will go to neuroblastoma specialists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. Deschaine's health insurance will pay for the procedure.
Angel Flight, an organization that flies people with medical needs to hospitals, will take Devin and his mother to New York for free.
Despite what he's going through, the little boy's spirits are high.
At All Children's Hospital, Devin takes his own temperature by putting a thermometer under his armpit, and he helps the nurse press buttons on his blood pressure monitor. After his doctor's visits, his mother rewards him with cherry-flavored Italian ice.
His mother is still awestruck at the kindness of strangers. She hopes that in time, her son's cancer will go into remission, and that she can return to work.
"We don't know how long this will go on for him," she said. "Right now, we're taking it one day at a time."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.