Cathe Lewis, an investigator for the Orange County public defender's office, died at midnight Saturday after a lengthy battle with cancer, friends said Monday. She was 38.
Until her death, friends and family members had maintained a weeks-long vigil around Lewis' bed at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange. Her former co-workers also had held bake sales and sought public donations to help defray her medical expenses and care for her three children. A total of $57,000 was raised.
Organizers of the fund-raising drive said Monday that they felt a mixture of sorrow and relief.
"There's a sense of relief because she was in suffering," said William G. Kelley, a deputy public defender who coordinated the drive. "She was in such pain that if the nurse just touched her you could see her wince."
"I'm sorry she died," he added. "(But) I'm more sorry that she got the disease in the first place."
Lewis had worked four years as a public defender's investigator, seeking alternatives to jail for indigent clients. She earned the respect of co-workers and many judges and prosecutors with her ability to communicate with clients.
Lewis' cancer of the spine was first diagnosed six years ago. She was able to function normally until she suffered a relapse two years ago. She had been hospitalized repeatedly since then.
Three months ago, her condition worsened so that she could not work. When her medical insurance ran out, Lewis watched and worried as her medical bills began to mount. That was when Kelley and other friends and colleagues started the drive to help her out.
As Kelley explained, the money was needed not only to defray her bills--which were running into the tens of thousands of dollars--but to care for her three children after she died. Lewis was the divorced single parent of three sons, Jeff, 18; Greg, 16, and Todd, 12.
In a bedside interview a few weeks ago, Lewis described her feelings.
"I'm very sad now. I just wanted to see my children grow up and be with them," she had said. "That's all I want right now, to see them and be with my family."
Kelley said Lewis had accepted the fact she would soon die and had occupied herself in her final weeks with "tying up loose ends" and making sure her sons would receive proper care.
"But she didn't accept the pain," Kelley said.
Funeral arrangements were still pending Monday. Contributions to the family can be sent to: Cathe With Love, 2639 N. Grand Ave., P.O. Box 148, Santa Ana, Calif., 92701.