Cancer-stricken girl, 17, rejects chemotherapy; mother voices support
By Beau Berman
WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. (Jan. 7, 2015) — The mother of the 17-year-old Connecticut teen with cancer who is rejecting chemotherapy is defending her daughter’s decision.
Fox CT first reported on the case Friday, citing court papers in which the teen is referred to as “Cassandra C.” Her attorney told Fox CT the case was headed to the state Supreme Court on Thursday, Jan. 8.
On Tuesday, Cassandra’s mother, Jackie Fortin, talked to Fox CT inside her Windsor Locks home.
Fortin said her daughter has been locked inside a hospital room the past four weeks, with a guard outside the door. She also said her daughter’s cell phone was confiscated.
Of course, Cassandra is no criminal. She’s a cancer patient who tried to refuse chemotherapy treatments that are now being forced into her system.
“My daughter doesn’t want to die and I don’t want her to die. So people out there think that I’m letting her do a death sentence and I’m not and neither is she. We are saying, these are her rights, these are her constitutional rights that have been taken away and not only that, the family has been separated at a time that it should not be,” Fortin told Fox CT.
Fortin said her daughter was perfectly healthy until May, when Cassandra noticed her neck was swollen. She spent the summer months having blood-work done to determine the problem. Despite test after test, Fortin said doctors could figure out what was wrong.
Fortin said it wasn't until September that doctors at Connecticut Children's Medical Center (CCMC) ran a biopsy and said Cassandra likely had Hodgkin lymphoma.
Fortin said Cassandra wanted to seek a second opinion, so she pulled her daughter's records to bring to another hospital.
But Fortin said CCMC doctors understood that as "neglect" and reported her to the state's Department of Children and Families. Fortin said that DCF filed a motion and was granted temporary custody of Cassandra.
"When they come and take a child from you, and I can't even call her up at nightitme and say, I love you honey goodnight. It's horrible."
After a court order, Cassandra initially agreed to undergo chemotherapy, according to her mother.
But her mother said that after just two treatments, Cassandra ran away and went missing. Police issued a silver alert for Cassandra in November. Cassandra was found, but tensions only grew with DCF according to her mother.
The 17-year-old was ordered to remain at the hospital and was eventually strapped to a hospital bed while a port was surgically implanted into her heart.
Fortin said her daughter didn't have the chance to make her own decision, that instead she was taken away and had the surgery and chemo forced on her.
Fortin admits that both she and her daughter are skeptical about the long-term implications of chemotherapy.
"It kills the cancer, hopefully, but it also kills everything in your body. And you for the rest of your life, you may have issues, you might not have issues. But there's a good chance you're gonna have issues." said Fortin.
Of course, doctors argue Cassandra's best and perhaps only chance at survival is chemo. But her mother isn't worried about what would happen if she didn't undergo chemo. "I'm not worried about if she doesn't do the chemo–this whole thing is about the state coming in and forcing her out of the home and forcing her to do something with her body without her wanting to do that. So whatever her choice may be to treat this cancer should be her choice, even if it chemo down the road," said Fortin.
Currently, Fortin said she's only allowed two supervised visits with Cassandra each week.
It's a tremendous departure from life just a few months ago at the family's Windsor Locks home, where Fortin said she raised Cassandra her entire life and home-schooled her the past few years.
Fortin said she's had sole custody of Cassandra since she was two years old when Fortin and her ex-husband divorced.
She said he's been out of their lives for the past 10 years.
"I can't even describe it because like I said this is the first time we've been separated. It was Christmas, first Christmas we've been apart. Thanksgiving, everything. First time, and it rips my heart apart because I know my daughter's going through something horrible right now where she's at," said Fortin.
Cassandra is represented by a public defender, while her mother is represented by Michael S. Taylor of West Hartford, Conn.
"The state shouldn't be able to substitute its judgment for her judgment as long as she's mature enough to understand what's going on and to make a reasonable decision, and we think she is," said Taylor during an interview with Fox CT on Friday.
That's the argument Cassandra's attorney and Taylor will make on Thursday in Connecticut Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Fortin said she's losing sleep while worrying about the outcome.
"The biggest thing people don't understand is: this is not a death sentence. It's not a suicide. It's about rights," said Fortin.