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On Parenting
Posted at 02:30 PM ET, 06/06/2011

Cancer and custody, a new fear for sick parents

A petition was just filed in a North Carolina district court that should have drawn little public attention. It was submitted by a 37-year-old mother and asks a judge to postpone her recent order to award custody of the mother’s 11-year-old and 6-year-old to her estranged husband.

But, wow, did it get attention. Alaina Giordano’s latest court maneuver has prompted a fresh round of online advocacy. Tens of thousands of people have already “liked” her efforts on a Facebook page and more than 100,000 have signed an online petition on her behalf.

You may have heard: This is the case of cancer mom.

“While I can’t speak to the rightness or wrongness of the judge’s decision in Durham, as a mom with cancer, the ruling definitely confirms some of my own fears, ” Jamie Troil Goldfarb wrote me.

Goldfarb writes “Melanoma Mom,” a blog that chronicles her own journey through treatment. The Takoma Park mother was diagnosed with cancer just a few weeks after her first son was born.

Very few child custody cases are cut and dry. The case of Alaina Giordano vs. Kane Snyder, is certainly not. The two have alleged questionable behavior on both sides and are in the middle of a high-conflict divorce.

The key factor here is that the judge deciding the children’s fate has found that Giordano’s illness, in this case stage IV breast cancer, was a compelling factor for the father.

District Court Judge Nancy Gordon’s ruling cited concerns about the course of the disease and whether the children might be better off with the non-ill parent. She decided the children should live with that non-ill parent, the father, who happens to live hundreds of miles away in Chicago.

Cancer patients come in all hues and strength-levels. Parenting and cancer can and do co-exist. The National Cancer Institute estimates that about a quarter of the adults living with cancer are parenting children younger than 18, according to a recent Los Angeles Times story.

In Giordano’s most recent filing, she submitted testimony that describes her as an engaged, devoted mother with a strong support system. If the judge’s current order stands, the children are scheduled to move on June 17th.

It remains to be seen what will emerge from the courthouse, but it’s doubtful any new action will ease the fear the judge has introduced in homes across the country, homes where there is already enough anxiety.

“I do think about things like this a lot now. I worry that I will be seen as an unfit mother because of my medical condition if the situation ever arises,” wrote Goldfarb.

“Not that I think about getting divorced, but I do wonder if, on the off chance that we did divorce for some horrible reason, would I lose the baby because of the cancer.”

By  |  02:30 PM ET, 06/06/2011

 
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