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Breast Cancer Diagnosis? Better Hope Your Kids Don’t Get Taken Away–Nancy Gordon Earns Asshole of the Week Award

May 12, 2011

Millions of women in this country get breast cancer, and millions of women will die from it in America.  Now, however, these millions of women also have to fear losing custody of their children while they fight cancer.  Judge Nancy Gordon earns the Asshole of the Week Award for removing one woman’s children from her custody, so they “wouldn’t have to be with an ill mother”:

Judge Nancy Gordon ordered Giordano’s children, Sofia, 11, and Bud, 5, to relocate by June 17 from Durham, N.C., to Chicago to live with their father even though Giordano, who says she is strong and able to parent, reports her metastatic cancer is under control.

“In her ruling, Judge Nancy Gordon cited forensic psychologist Dr. Helen Brantley,” according to Good Morning America: “The more contact [the children] have with the non-ill parent, the better they do. They divide their world into the cancer world and a free of cancer world. Children want a normal childhood, and it is not normal with an ill parent.”

Gordon was diagnosed in Dec. 2007. On her blog, she said she has spent the past 16 months “defending myself from the attacks of my abusive husband who filed a lawsuit against me in Durham County, N.C., asking for full, permanent custody of our two children using the argument that I have a cancer diagnosis.”

While breast cancer is such a prevalent disease, it’s legal malpractice that a judge might even consider removing a child simply because a mother is ill, psychologist commentary or no. It’s illegal to remove a child from parental custody simply because a parent is HIV positive, in Florida, but apparently its legal to use a mother’s cancer diagnosis against her.

While its shocking that a judge would use this diagnosis, it’s also unrealistic to assume that removing children from their mother’s care will somehow protect them from something.  Their mother could still die, and in fact, all parents will die, at some time.  We can’t shield children from their parents’ deaths any more than we can shield them from life.

As a parent who has had a life-threatening condition brought upon by medical malpractice, I empathize with other parents in this situation of trying to help their children deal with the possible death of their mother. There is no such thing as a “normal” childhood, any more than a “normal” life.  But there is also no way to protect a child from the death of a parent, the illness or injury of a parent, and that is the “normal” part of dealing with an illness or sickness.  A child is impacted by his or her parents, and this is normal.

I can never give my child that reassurance that “nothing will happen to Mommy,” and while it has caused me my fair share of grief and tears, I did come to realize that there is no such truthful promise a parent can give.  We do not live forever.  Have I held my child when she cried from fear of losing me? Yes.  Have I worked with her to help her feel safe in all of this? Yes.  Can I provide, or for that matter, can anyone provide complete assurance to protect my child if I should die?  No.  The father can’t give that reassurance, and neither can the mother, because it’s not something that we can give.

What is more abnormal is trying to tell a child that everything is “fine,” when a parent is terminally ill.  There is no such thing as “fine” to that child any more, no matter where the child lives. This robs the children of the right to grieve, the right to their own opinions, the right to deal with trauma and loss with dignity.

I will never forget my daughter looking at me with plaintive tears one particularly trying time, the anniversary of my injury and my unborn baby’s death, when my sisters and mother insisted on trying to whisk my daughter away so “she didn’t have to deal with all of the grief,” because my family found my grief repugnant.  My daughter refused to leave, and actually came to me even more upset.  She said:  “Don’t they realize I am sad too?  Don’t they realize I want to be with my mom when she is sick because I love her?  Don’t they realize I wish my little brother or sister had lived?  Don’t they realize I am sad too?  I want to be with you, Momma, even if you’re sad, ’cause I am sad too.  They just don’t understand…”

It does no good to deny a child their grief, their closure, their ability to understand  parental loss or loss, in general.  Taking a child away will never fix anything, and well, maybe even if she is sick, and she may be dying, and she may not get up and run, maybe they just want their Mom.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. victoria bennett permalink
    May 13, 2011 12:44 pm

    This was an amazing article. Thank you so much for posting this. I am a mother of 2 young daughters, and I could never imagine not being able to spend my last moments with them. As a mother, you want to protect your children, thats our primal instinct, but you cannot protect them from everything. What this judge is doing is repulsive.. Who is she to decide the fate of this family. The husband should be ashamed of himself for even moving forward with this battle. We only have one mother, and we cherish the times we have with them for however long it may be. My girls know that I will not live forever, but even knowing that, as sad as it is, we use every moment of every day to be with one another. I only hope, by some miracle that this gets turned around. Let her be with her children and live out the rest of her days with the people she loves the most, her children.

  2. dbsm permalink
    May 28, 2011 7:20 pm

    i just thought of something while reading this: what if the father dies? Seriously. He isn’t ill but all that means is that were he to die, it would be sudden. THAT, would be really traumatic…which can be terribly different from being terminally ill.

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