Woman's Cancer a Factor in Complex Custody Battle

A North Carolina woman’s cancer was cited by a judge as a factor for awarding custody of her children to her estranged husband, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The ongoing case, which has stirred up an emotional debate over cancer discrimination, involves Alaina Giordano, 37, a mother with breast cancer who recently lost primary custody of her 11-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son to her estranged husband.

According to the paper, though the children now live with Giordano in Durham, the judge's ruling means they must move to the Chicago area on June 17 to live with their father in Arlington Heights. Among the factors cited in the lengthy decision, which Giordano has appealed, were concerns over her health and the uncertainty over how long she will live. Her Stage 4 breast cancer has spread throughout her body, but people can live for years with the advanced disease.

While cancer was just one factor in the complicated case, the prominent role that Giordano's terminal illness played in the ruling and the judge's assertion that "the more contact (the children) have with the non-ill parent, the better they do," has rallied angry supporters to Giordano's side, spooked cancer patients and survivors, and raised questions about how a parent's illness might impact the well-being of the child.

"It touched a nerve," said breast cancer survivor Emily Cousins, 41, who has two young children and writes for the Stupid Cancer Blog, a support group for young survivors. "People in our community had a strong reaction (to the case) and used social media to spread the word because we can all imagine, 'What if a judge used our diagnosis against us?'"

Giordano, the Chicago Tribune reports, was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in December 2007 when she was 33; she and her husband separated in January 2010. Though the cancer has spread throughout her body, monthly treatments at Duke Medical Center have kept it stable. The judge found Giordano to be "able bodied" and "by all accounts a capable, caring and loving mother who has an excellent relationship with her children."

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