Cassandra Callender, of Windsor Locks, Conn., was diagnosed with stage 3 or 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma when she was 17 years old. Shortly after the diagnosis in September 2014, she refused chemotherapy, and decided to look into alternative treatments to protect her body from long-term effects such as organ damage and infertility.
However, the state of Connecticut forced her into getting treatment against her own and her mother’s will. Her doctors said she would likely die without chemotherapy, and reported her case as child abuse to the Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF), who took her case to the state Superior Court.
After doctors stated that Cassandra needed the treatment, which has an 80 to 95 percent success rate, the court ruled that she was too young to decide about her own health, and forced her into getting chemotherapy. At first, Cassandra and her mother complied with the decision and went through with the treatment. After receiving two rounds of chemotherapy, however, Cassandra ran away from home, refusing any further treatment.
Unfortunately, the court intervened again, and Cassandra was removed from her mother’s home, allowing the DCF to take temporary custody and make all decisions regarding Cassandra’s medical treatments. She was forcibly hospitalized, and underwent a grueling five months of chemotherapy.
How can a state force a 17-year-old to have chemotherapy?
Cassandra fully understood what she was facing, and what the consequences of her decision could have had on her life.
“Words cannot describe what my life has become over the last few months,” she wrote in a column for The Courant. “Horrifying seems like an understatement. What I have been going through is traumatizing. Never did it cross my mind that one day I would be diagnosed with cancer.
“Whether I live 17 years or 100 years should not be anyone’s choice but mine. How long is a person actually supposed to live, and why? Who determines that? I care about the quality of my life, not just the quantity.”
However, the court ruled that she was a minor, and the DCF stated that it was their duty to act, since there was a chance she could die if the decision were left up to her and her mother.
“When experts — such as the several physicians involved in this case — tell us with certainty that a child will die as a result of leaving a decision up to a parent, then the Department has a responsibility to take action,” DCF said in a statement.
Cancer has come back
After five months of forced chemotherapy, Cassandra went into remission. However, though the state forbade her to look into alternative treatments because the chemotherapy would give her an 85 percent chance of survival, her cancer has now come back.
“Here is my ‘85% chance’ of life after chemo,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “Unfortunately I didn’t make the 85%, I fell into the 15%.”
Cassandra, now 18, is legally old enough to take matters into her own hands, and told The Associated Press that she is “moving forward with alternative treatments.”
The DCF recently released a statement saying that it sympathizes with Casandra, and wishes the best for her and her family.
“From the beginning, the department has been guided by the medical experts’ judgement about what would be in Cassandra’s best interest,” the statement said. “Cassandra’s health and well-being remain in the forefront of our thoughts and our hopes for her full recovery.”
Cassandra has now set up a GoFundMe page to help accumulate the funds for alternative cancer treatments, and in order to hire an attorney to fight her case.
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