By MedCity News

DURHAM, N.C. – Cancer is a lot of things. But it’s not the reason Alaina Giordano’s children may wind up living with their father.

If Giordano’s name doesn’t immediately ring any bells in the medical community, her case should. Giordano is the Durham, North Carolina, mom with breast cancer embroiled in a custody dispute with her estranged husband, Kane Snyder. In April, a local judge said that their children – Sofia, 11, and Bud, 6 – must live with their father in Illinois.

Giordano has appealed, claiming the judge improperly based the ruling on her cancer. And that assertion has helped Snyder v. Giordano go viral. Bloggers, rappers, national media outlets and fellow moms with breast cancer have decided that this case could be the start of a slippery slope where cancer makes someone a less fit mother.

“I am not cancer,” Giordano has said.

But that popular assumption – that her cancer’s has had a major impact on this case – is wrong. And healthcare professionals nationwide should be paying particular attention to what’s happening. Overemphasizing the role of cancer in this case gives a false impression of its role in legal proceedings and draws valuable attention from real issues around the disease.

As it stands now, Giordano’s children are with their father. An appeals court dissolved an earlier ruling saying that Giordano could keep custody of her children during the appeals process.

Mainstream and new media alike have embraced the story. Many of the reporters portrayed Giordano as being wronged three times: first by cancer, second by her husband and then a third time by Judge Nancy Gordon. Coverage latched onto the role of Giordano’s cancer in the custody ruling, casting it as the linchpin in the order taking Bud and Sofia from their mother.

A Time Magazine blogger likened the significance of the potential separation of Giordano from her children to Amelia Earhart’s flight and the Watergate burglary.

The story gained particular traction in social media. Twitter and Facebook spread global awareness of the dispute. It galvanized many moms with breast cancer – some of them bloggers – who worried their health status could result in a similar ruling. Websites were created, some supporting Giordano and others castigating Gordon.

Recently, in the ultimate example of new media cause celeb, the Giordano cause got its own hip-hop song launched on Twitter via SoundCloud (key verse at 58 seconds: “You said a healthy dad is better than a sick mom?”).

But that’s the problem. The more the story proliferated on social media, the further the debate drifted from the facts of the case.

The reality of custody cases is that the dirty laundry of both parties gets an airing and it often stinks on both sides. Snyder and Giordano have both had extramarital affairs. There have been arguments that escalated into fights resulting in protection orders.
Plus, the children have been pawns in the parents’ fights. The judge said Giordano has made minimal efforts to keep the children involved in their father’s life. She scheduled trips to prevent the children from spending time with their father (though the children are currently on a two-week vacation with Snyder now).

In one instance, Giordano failed to send Bud’s allergy injection to Snyder when the children were with him, which the judge said “demonstrates to this court that she has difficulty separating her anger at the plaintiff from the well-being of the children.”

In all of those facts cited by Gordon, none mentioned cancer. Yet the healthcare community is being thrust into a role it should not have. Some cancer patients are suggesting that their health status could impact custody rights. That incorrect perception will trickle into the treatment rooms. And a doctor doesn’t need – nor deserve – that distraction.

And the potential of a physician or medical ailment getting thrust into the legal spotlight around cases like this is an awful thought. Physicians have enough exposure as it is.

Giordano’s cancer is tragic. But cancer is not the basis for the custody decision. Giordano has neither a job nor health coverage. Snyder looked for work in North Carolina but the job he found is in Chicago. That job gives Snyder the means to provide both the financial support and health coverage to the entire family. His insurance covers Giordano’s cancer care.

There’s a perception this ruling is punishing Giordano. But it actually makes provisions for her. The court’s ruling weighs the ability for Giordano to get quality care, noting that in Chicago there’s ample opportunity for treatment. That seems to be the judge’s healthcare-related distinction in this case.

Giordano acknowledged that she could move to Chicago but prefers Durham, where she receives care at Duke Medical Center. Moreover, she has made no effort to even look at housing and healthcare options available to her in Illinois.

Giordano can move to Illinois but won’t. Snyder tried to move back to North Carolina but can’t. What Gordon’s order emphasizes is that it is in the best interests of both children that they have frequent and regular contact with both parents. Her order supports that goal.
“Given the relatively low obstacles to a relocation by the defendant and given her willingness to relocate to the Chicago area if the children move there, and given that both parents have the present capacity to parent the children, this Court determines that it is in the children’s best interest to move to live in Illinois with their father at this time,” Gordon wrote.

Health is just one factor of many leading to this decision. And that’s not something you’re seeing on social (or even mainstream) media.

All parents sacrifice for their children. Giordano has already stated she’s willing to follow her children to Chicago.

If the appeals court upholds Gordon’s ruling, Giordano must decide if she will actually make that sacrifice.

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