A Mother and her Two Daughters

14 May 2011

Single Parenting with Cancer takes a Legal Hit

A recently decided custody battle has been getting a lot of attention recently, especially inside the cancer community.

On the losing side: A North Carolina mother with stage 4 breast cancer whose two children, ages 5 and 11, were taken away because of her terminal illness. On the winning side, the healthy father who divorced his wife, Alaina Giordano, after her diagnosis. Several months ago he decided to move to Chicago, and now he wants his kids.  Essentially, the judge said, a healthy dad is better than a sick mom.  

Make no mistake – this divorce was replete with accusations of physical and mental abuse, extra-marital affairs and mental illness.  But it was the father who chose to leave North Carolina to pursue a job in Chicago, and it was the judge cited breast cancer as the deciding factor. Custody agreements, in theory, are based on what's in a child's best interest, but moving the children away from their friends, their schools and their mother at a time when her life expectancy is uncertain is incomprehensible. 

In her ruling, Judge Nancy Gordon cited forensic psychologist Dr. Helen Brantley: "The more contact [the children] have with the non-ill parent, the better they do. Children want a normal childhood, and it is not normal with an ill parent."

This issue isn’t over and will long be debated in the court of law and the court of public opinion.  In the meantime, Alaina has started a blog and well-meaning friends have begun a Facebook page: Alaina Giordano Should Not Lose Her Kids Because She Has Breast Cancer. 

On her blog, Alaina writes this:

I am Alaina. I was diagnosed with cancer in December 2007. I am not cancer.
I am a mother of two remarkable children. I am not cancer.
I am a daughter to loving parents. I am not cancer.
I am a sister to two amazing women. I am not cancer.
I am a friend to so many wonderful people. I am not cancer.

I plan on staying on top of this issue.  It’s difficult to imagine that this kind of child custody ruling could become the norm, that we could begin to see laws passed that suggest effective parenting is contingent on being in optimal health. 

Medical update:

Last week I went to see my oncologist Dr. Makhoul for some blood work and my regular checkup – and the news is good. 

First, my vitamin D levels are finally normal and I’ll soon begin the Reclast treatment to increase my bone density levels.  This is good news, especially since I had an accident last Friday with my toe and a big piece of furniture in the den.  I went online to find out what can be done with a broken toe, and most articles said there’s not much you can do.  So, I did nothing, until yesterday.  With pain and swelling moving into my foot, I got worried – this wasn’t getting any better, only worse.  Sure enough, I went to see my neighbor/friend and local podiatrist Dr. Richard Bronfman, and I have a nice clean break across my toe.  Eeeeks – no wonder it hurts.  I’m now wearing a beautiful black boot, my toe wrapped up in gauze and tape.  I need to get my bones back to where they need to be.  They are as frail as paper right now. 

Second, my tumor markers came back negative.  I have long heard the phrase “tumor marker” but had no idea what that meant until last week. This will be a test I’ll have every three months for who knows how long.  Tumor markers are substances that can be found in the body (in my case, the blood) when cancer is present. Tumor markers can be used to identify hormones, proteins or parts of proteins to determine if cancer is present.  My tumor markers should always remain below a 31.  Last week my tumor marker test – 16!  What a fabulous kind of test to see if cancer is trying to stir itself back up in your body.  While there still is no cure, there are some remarkable tests and procedures that continue to amaze me. 

I continue to move along and feel better all the time.  Yes, my resistance is down and I seem to pick up all kinds of infections that used to not be an issue.  Ear infections, a fever virus – you name it, I can pick it up right now.  But I’m not going to let this get me down.  Life’s been fun – an evening cruise down the Arkansas River, a French dinner party where Tim and I were the “celebrity chefs,” floating the Buffalo National River, a day at the horse races, a reunion celebration with Hendrix College friends, a decadent dinner and beautiful evening at P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home, and now regular visits to the Farmer’s Market to keep my 80% plant diet on track.  Life is good and I’m enjoying every day. 

I hope you’re enjoying the spring weather as much as me.  

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