Cierrah French’s dream is to visit the big bookstore in South Portland she sees from her grandparents’ car as they travel on the highway to and from Boston Children’s Hospital.

So far, she hasn’t been able to stop at Books-A-Million because the cancer in her right leg is so painful, she can’t get around very well.

Cierrah French, 12, sits with her grandparents, Alicia and Wayne Blodgett, on Wednesday at their home in Skowhegan. Cierrah will undergo surgery Tuesday in Boston for treatment of cancer in one of her legs. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

French, 12, of Skowhegan, has chrondocarcinoma, a rare cancer that has ravaged her knee and is resistant to both chemotherapy and radiation. She is scheduled to have a complicated nine-hour surgery Tuesday at Children’s Hospital to replace her knee and do some other related repairs that will involve taking part of her tibia and some muscle from the back of her leg and inserting metal to keep it all together.

“Her cancer has grown a lot,” said her grandmother, Alicia Blodgett.

Blodgett, 58, and her husband, Wayne, 62, are French’s guardians.

“She’s a smart little girl,” said Wayne Blodgett, who lovingly calls her “Squeaky,” because years ago when she was little and he had hearing problems, all he heard when she spoke was squeaking sounds.

Cierrah and her grandparents live an idyllic life on a scenic hill just out of town, where I met them last week in their busy kitchen as the family dogs leaped about and visitors came and went.

The Blodgetts said Cierrah first started having pain in her leg in November 2017.

“Her doctor here said it was growing pains or bursitis, and they wanted her to do physical therapy,” Alicia Blodgett recalled. “In 2018, they did an X-ray and the cancer showed up. They found a tumor at Children’s Hospital.”

A straight-A, high honors student at Skowhegan Area Middle School, Cierrah was named Student of the Month for April. She plays the flute and loves to read, write and draw, though she hasn’t been able to read a lot lately because the pain in her leg makes it hard to focus.

“In the past two weeks it has gotten unbearable,” her grandmother said. “We went to Portland for pain management. Last Thursday it got so bad, even with pain meds.”

They went to the emergency department, where Cierrah learned her leg had fractured. She now wears a brace and uses crutches. Her grandparents moved her bed downstairs to the living room.

“I feel better with the brace and crutches, but the meds make me feel all hot and tired all the time,” Cierrah said. “It’s especially hard to get comfortable in the car.”

Her grandmother said they were relieved to get her pain under control.

“We’ve got one more week until the surgery,” she said. “It’ll be a long road, but at least we won’t be in pain anymore.”

Cierrah’s sister, Kiana, 16, also lives with their grandparents and is close to Cierrah, as are the girls’ mother, Heidi, and the Blodgetts’ two other grown children, John and Ben. Cierrah’s teachers and the school nurse also have been supportive, according to Alicia Blodgett.

Cierrah French, 12, sits with her dog, Roxie, on Wednesday at the home of her grandparents, Alicia and Wayne Blodgett, in Skowhegan. Cierrah is scheduled to undergo surgery Tuesday in Boston for treatment of cancer in her leg. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

“They have been wonderful,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked for any better.”

The school recently held a fundraiser to help the family. Friends are helping, too. Janelle Graf, a longtime family friend, started a GoFundMe page, Cierrah’s Cancer Fundraiser, to help with expenses, including travel and hotel stays.

“They are good people who have been through a lot and could use some help right now,” Graf said. “Cierrah is a little angel with a heart of gold, and it’s sad to see her suffering right now.”

A quiet girl with long brown hair and brown eyes, Cierrah doesn’t complain and worries about her grandparents.

“She’ll say to me, ‘Are you OK, Mammy? Sorry you have to wait on me,'” Alicia Blodgett said.

Cierrah will turn 13 on April 29. She can’t wait to get better so she can go outside and ride her bike, which she got new last year but was able to ride only twice.

She is a brave girl, according to her grandfather, who marvels at the volume of young adult fantasy novels she has read, books with hundreds of pages. She has consumed The Red Queen series, by Victoria Aveyard; the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling; the Twilight series, by Stephenie Meyer; and The Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series, by Cassandra Clare.

“I like to write stories and I want to be an author when I get older,” Cierrah said.

Her grandmother said that, after her surgery and recovery, they will visit Books-A-Million so Cierrah can go book shopping.

She smiled warmly at her granddaughter.

“I’ll say to Cierrah, ‘What about reading on the Kindle?’ She says, ‘Oh, no, I like the smell and feel of a book.’ It has to be a book.”

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 31 years. Her columns appear here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

 

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