Teen Forced to Undergo Chemotherapy Denied Visitation with Mom, Must Stay in Hospital
Cassandra C., the Connecticut teen forced to undergo chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, says she “hoped beyond hope” that a judge would let her leave the hospital where she has been legally required to stay since December.
But on Wednesday, a Connecticut Superior Court judge ruled that the 17-year-old must remain at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford under the temporary custody of the state’s Department of Children and Families until she completes her court-ordered chemotherapy.
The judge also denied visitation to her mother, Jackie Fortin.
“I cried when I found out,” Cassandra tells PEOPLE. “I’m just heartbroken right now. Why are they keeping me from my mom? It is really unnecessary. I want to be with my mom. I’m devastated.”
At a March 16 hearing, attorneys for Cassandra and her mother asked a state court if she could leave the hospital and finish her two remaining, four-day chemotherapy cycles by commuting to the hospital from home, since she is now in remission. Her court-mandated six-month chemotherapy cycle is supposed to end April 27, she says.
Cassandra has not seen or spoken to her mother since New Year’s Day after DCF prohibited the teen from having any contact with her, she says.
Fighting back tears, Cassandra says DCF was trying to arrange for her mother to come see her on Easter – and to start weekly visits after that. “But now, because of the ruling, I’m unsure that she can,” she says.
“I’m not surprised at the ruling. But I’m really disappointed. I thought the judge would at least let me see my mom. After all this time, I am in remission. I have gone along with everything they have told me to do. But nothing has changed.”
A Controversial Choice
Last fall, Cassandra’s story drew national attention when she initially rejected chemotherapy treatments after being diagnosed with cancer, saying she wanted to seek alternative treatments first.
She says she was worried “major possible side effects” she had read about including possible heart damage and secondary cancers.
After doctors at CCMC confirmed her diagnosis, Cassandra says, the hospital immediately scheduled appointments for her to begin chemotherapy. Instead, Cassandra and her mother went to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, to get a second opinion, she says.
When she missed several appointments at CCMC, doctors there notified DCF, according to court records. Cassandra says her mother told the hospital she would reschedule them.
CCMS did not return calls for comment.
The state DCF took temporary custody of her and placed her in a foster home with a family member. She returned home after she agreed at a Nov. 12 court hearing to undergo the chemotherapy.
But on Nov. 18, on her second day of treatment, when her oncologist told her that she needed surgery the next morning to insert a chemotherapy port in her chest, she panicked and ran away, she says.
“I felt like I had no other options,” she says.
On Dec. 9, after she returned home, a Connecticut Superior Court judge granted DCF temporary custody of Cassandra, who was admitted to the hospital and forced to resume the chemotherapy. On Jan. 8, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that Cassandra had to continue the state-ordered treatments, saying she was not mature enough to make that decision for herself.
Cassandra’s lawyer, assistant public defender Josh Michtom, said in a statement Wednesday that he and Fortin’s attorneys are conferring with their clients about their “next steps, including whether to take another appeal.”
In the statement, Michtom said the judge issued his decision “without explanation. I’m disappointed in this ruling, not least of all because it draws a factual conclusion that is directly contradicted by the weight of the evidence.”
DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said in a statement released to PEOPLE that the agency is “looking forward to the day later this month when Cassandra can happily return home after her treatment is completed and the doctors are confident that she has beaten the cancer.”
None of this matters to Cassandra, who says she doesn’t know if she will be forced to stay in the hospital beyond April 27. “I was told they are unsure about the actual release date,” she says. “This has to go through the courts, so if don’t get a court date or ruling before April 27, I don’t know what is going to happen.”
“We cannot go into details about this,” a DCF spokesman told PEOPLE.
On Wednesday, Cassandra also found out that she lost her part-time job, which she relied on to save for college, a car and to pay her phone bill.
“Now I don’t have a job to go back to when I am released,” she says. “I depended on that job. I can’t even pick up where I left off. Everything has been taken away from me. None of this is fair. I just want my life back.”