After spending nearly five months in the hospital, Cassandra C. is finally going home.
The 17-year-old – who drew national attention when she initially rejected chemotherapy treatments after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma – was released from Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford Monday afternoon, FOXCT reports.
“I’m beyond excited,” she tells PEOPLE. “I’ve been ready to go home since the day I got here. It’s been a really long journey.”
Since Dec. 9, Cassandra C., as she is known in court papers, had been forced to stay at the hospital under the temporary custody of the state’s Department of Children and Families until she completed court-ordered chemotherapy.
In March, she learned that her cancer was in remission but still had to complete her chemotherapy treatments. “I had my last treatment on April 20,” she says. “After that, I had chemo by pill. After I took my last pill, I was done.”
On Friday, her doctors removed the chemotherapy port from her chest, “which was awesome,” she says. “It’s great not to feel it under my skin anymore.”
Another happy moment? Getting to see her mom again. Says the teen: “I missed my mother so much.”
Cassandra had not seen or spoken to her mother from New Year’s Day until Easter after DCF prohibited the teen from having any contact with her, she says. “My mom is so excited,” she says. “This has been so stressful for her.”
In a statement released to PEOPLE, DCF Commissioner Joette Katz says, “We are delighted that today Cassandra will go home with complete confidence that she is healthy and has recovered as the result of the amazing work of the medical professionals at Connecticut Children s Medical Center and the dedicated staff at the Department of Children and Families.”
“No doubt, this was a difficult and scary experience for Cassandra and her family. No parent or child wants to face such an illness, and no one wants to undergo a medical treatment as difficult as this one.”
“However, we were responsible to save Cassandra’s life under these circumstances, and we are very happy that she is now moving successfully to another phase in her life – a healthy and happy one. Cassandra has shown great spirit throughout this ordeal, and we wish her all the best.”
Cassandra celebrated her departure at the hospital with a cake she had delivered to her floor. “I have also made a lot of friends here at the hospital,” she says. “I will miss so many people here. After being here so long, it’s hard not to get close to the nurses and the PCAs (personal care assistants) and the doctors. The nurses were so great. Saying goodbye to some of them was upsetting. It was hard to say goodbye.”
She grew close to her fellow patients, too. “Knowing I’m not going to see them will be hard,” she says. “But they told me they are happy for me.”
She also grew close to their mothers, saying, “A lot of the moms who have kids here were so concerned about me. They were so upset that my mom couldn’t be here. A lot of the moms reached out to me and would come and check up on me.”
Also helpful, she says, “was all the support I got from people who reached out to me kept me going. I didn’t realize so many people would reach out to me.”
The first thing Cassandra says she wants to do when she gets home is snuggle with her cat, Simba, whom she says she missed “so much. I’m probably going to start crying when I see my cat. As soon as I walk into my house, I’m going to start crying. Just seeing my house will be so great.”
She planned on celebrating her return home with her mom, her boyfriend, her best friend and others.
Cassandra says she has a greater appreciation for the simpler things in life. “Just stepping outside into the fresh air is going to make me cry,” she says. “I haven’t been outside since December.”
She adds that she is also looking forward to “a home cooked meal from my mom. I hope she has a shepherd’s pie waiting for me when I get home.”
She can’t wait to curl up in her own bed, either. “I am going to sleep like a baby when I am in my own bed,” she says. “The hospital bed wasn’t so comfortable.”
Looking To the Future
Now that she is out of the hospital, Cassandra says will focus on putting her life back together again. “My whole life has been flipped upside down,” she tells PEOPLE.
“But I am excited to get back to my life. I am excited to finish school and get a job and a car and move on with my life. I don t want to carry this with me forever.”
Among the first things on her to-do list: “I’m going to start looking for a job,” she says. “I am also going to go get my nails done.”
Looking back at all she has been through, adds the teen, “It’s been a really long journey. I survived my five-month stay in the hospital. All the nurses and doctors and staff here said they are proud of me for handling this so well. I am happy that I am better now.”