MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A mother is in a battle over chemotherapy for her son, who says he doesn’t want it.
The boy’s mother is waging the fight in court because she says her son is in remission, and continued chemotherapy will only harm him.
A judge took temporary custody away from her Friday.
Nick Gunderson, 13, said in a video he felt like he was being kept as a hostage at Winthrop Hospital.
But Suffolk officials say they’re acting according to laws that protect children’s lives.
Nick is receiving chemotherapy against his and his mother’s wishes.
“I don’t have cancer, so there is no need for chemotherapy,” Nick said in the video. “It’s causing me a lot of stress and I can’t deal with it anymore.”
It’s a heartbreaking medical drama playing out in family court. After grueling chemotherapy, Nick is remission from a rare and aggressive form of leukemia. But court ordered chemo continues under his doctor’s advice to keep the cancer at bay.
His mother says it’s her parental right to opt out.
“Once the cancer cells are no longer present, the chemotherapy just destroys the body and I don’t agree with that,” said Candace Gundersen. “I feel my son should have the opportunity to pursue a nontoxic alternative.”
The two were ordered back to New York from Florida, where she sought alternative protocols she believes will improve his quality of life amid a grim prognosis.
“The most he would get is five years,” Candace Gundersen said. “Three of those years being in treatment and two years after that. A lot of side effects and damage to his body.”
A judge ordered Nicolas released from the hospital, into temporary custody of a family friend for outpatient chemo. The issue of longterm treatment will be decided at trial.
“Candace wants her child to have the best quality of life for the few years he has left,” said Elliott Schlissel, the attorney for the Gundersen family. “They are treating him for cancer that does not exist at this time.”
An NYU Winthrop Hospital spokesman said in a statement:
The advances in the treatment and knowledge relating to pediatric cancers have increased dramatically in the last three decades. In the past, children with the most common forms of leukemia only had a 20% survival rate. Today it can be as high as 90-95%. Even with rarer forms, the prognosis is very positive when the patients follow accepted standards of care, which involve the regular delivery of chemotherapy over a period of two to three years. The pediatric cancer specialists at NYU Winthrop are among the most renowned in the region and, in fact, in the country, utilizing accepted, state-of-the-art treatments to help cure youngsters afflicted with cancer.
It has been clear for at least 20 years that the state of “remission,” at least in its initial stages, does not mean a “clean bill of health.” It simply means that cancer cells are not detectable, but remain within the blood in small amounts. However, unless chemotherapy is continued, those cells can once again multiply, and the results are usually fatal. The standard of care clearly calls for a regimen of chemotherapy over several years to significantly reduce the risk of recurrence of the cancer in an even more aggressive form. Literally thousands of children in the US have benefitted from this treatment and are now living healthy and normal lives. Those who oppose the use of chemotherapy following an initial finding of “remission,” while they may be well-intentioned, are risking the life of a child without any scientific rationale.
Two different philosophies of care, and a child too young to be allowed to make the decision for himself.
The judge Friday allowed Candace Gundersen to continue to visit with her son at all times.