Alaina Giordano's Battles: Cancer, Child Custody and Court Precedents

BlogHer Original Post

As a mother, I can imagine no worse diagnosis than being told that I have Stage 4 breast cancer. However, a North Carolina mother has found out that there is something worse than that diagnosis: losing your children because of your cancer. Alaina Giordano is experiencing this horrific nightmare while continuing to fight for her life.

At 33 years old, Alaina received her diagnosis. And then went through a divorce. And now... this: losing primary custody of her children because she is ill. She has been living with her diagnosis for four and a half years. Anyone who has ever had or supported someone with cancer knows that’s a long time to fight cancer. Adding in the stress of a custody battle seems like salt in the wound. So when the female judge, Nancy Gordon, handed down the ruling that the children should move 600 miles away to live primarily with their father, partly because they need a stable, healthy parent, Alaina was understandably outraged.

Giordano

Her interview on the TODAY Show this morning explains more.

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The judge did say that because Alaina is currently unemployed, she could easily relocate to Chicago. Obviously this judge has neither had nor supported anyone with cancer. Changing states and medical coverage and treatment plans takes time which only further puts Alaina's life in danger.

I keep seeing red when I think of this story. While other things may have played into the judge’s decision, this feels like a very dangerous precedent to set. When a single mother is diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, will she automatically lose custody of her children? If it’s a diagnosis of Stage 3, will the Department of Children Services begin home visits to make sure she’s caring for her children properly and that they’re not being “traumatized” by her illness? What about other diseases -- life threatening or chronic? Should a child be removed from a home because a mother might die during a kidney transplant surgery? What about a mom that simply travels a lot; her plane could crash on any trip. Better get those kids out of the house!

And what about when both parents have cancer? Should Elisa and Nathan Bond's daughter be removed from their parents’ home while they fight for their lives?

All of those situations are ludicrous, of course, as is this one. You can argue that death is big and scary and “too much” for a child, but we’re also forgetting that not only are children resilient -- more so than adults -- but that these children have a right to be with their mom. Especially if she’s going to die. (As a note: I’d be saying the same thing if gender roles were reversed here. This ruling is unfair whether it was a mom or a dad with cancer.)

Bloggers are, no doubt, weighing in on the matter. To say that the general consensus is pure outrage is an understatement.

The dailybitch points out future custody cases as well as pointing out why the public at large should care about this case.

What the average person is NOT thinking about is that if Alaina Giordano does not get this ruling overturned it will affect future child custody cases. You may think that you will never be in Alaina Giordano's shoes but she never saw this in her future either.

Alaina's case will be used against other people who have cancer and are going through a custody dispute. Many more parents could suffer from this judges' ignorant ruling. You may not care about this because you think it will never affect you but no one knows for sure. What if Alaina were your sister, mother, friend or co-worker? When it hits home and affects you personally, then you will want someone to help you.

Empathetic Mom, who is a mental health professional who treats families and children, was outraged by specific wording about children needing to be protected from an ill parent.

WHAT?!?!?! When did we define what is normal for all families? This Mother has stage four breast cancer, that is their norm now. It's their reality. And I would like to know where this psychologist got her information and whether this is her opinion or whether this is actually cited in the research literature or whether she has ever worked with families with a terminally ill parent. It's very different from any research I have read or any treatment I have delivered to children and with terminally ill parents.

Judy at Just Enjoy Him was diagnosed with Stage IV inflammatory breast cancer in 2007. Her post is entitled "We are all terminal," and that's the point she makes -- quite well.

But, you know what? None of us do. Nobody knows if a heart attack will come and steal his/her life, if cancer will be diagnosed, if a stroke will happen, if he/she will get in some fatal accident. Life itself is a terminal condition. It’s just that those of us with terminal conditions probably understand that more than most people.

But perhaps the best blog posts are coming from Alaina herself. That’s right, she started a blog (smart woman!) and is sharing her own truth. In her post on April 29, she pointed out exactly what I did above.

The Judge says in the order (paraphrasing) that she is uncomfortable not knowing when I will die. This is part of her reasoning for removing the children from their home.

Did you know that 1 in 4 Americans have been diagnosed with asthma?

Did you know that 11 people die every day from asthma in the U.S.?

Clearly, the Judge is not following logic to determine this order. None of us has a crystal ball. This Judge wants to play God and is uncomfortable that she feels not in control in this situation.

Not surprising, the news story has struck a chord with many people. The Facebook page is up to over 7,400 “likes” after this morning’s TODAY show coverage (over 1,000 since I opened the page). Many are leaving messages of hope for Alaina, including their own stories of battling Stage 4 cancer. Many bloggers -- and many of them women and/or mothers -- are putting out calls to action on their own blogs like those at At the Table with Gail and Chris from Momathon Blog's post on BlogHer.com. Numbers and websites for attorneys are being left on the page as well as people rallying via petition, asking to donate money or share air miles. The Internet, she is good.

What are your thoughts on this case? If the ruling is not overturned and becomes case law, would you feel comfortable entering a custody battle with your current health status?

[Editor's Note and Update: On Friday, August 12, 2011, Alaina announced that she been denied a stay in the case. Her children are leaving for Chicago on August 17, before the start of school in their new hometown where they will live with their father -- 800 miles away. Her appeal will eventually be heard, but it's highly unlikely any judge would want to move the kids again.]

Family Section Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a freelance writer and photographer.

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