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Connecticut Teen Who Refused Chemo Now in 'Remission,' Seeks Freedom

A 17-year-old girl who initially refused treatment for a highly curable cancer is now in "remission" and wants to go home, her lawyer said Monday.
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A 17-year-old girl who initially refused treatment for a highly curable cancer is now in remission and is seeking release from state custody to finish her last two months of chemotherapy at home, the teen and her lawyer said Monday.

The patient, called only Cassandra C. in court papers, has changed her mind about undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin lymphoma, once seeing the drugs as "poison." She now fully intends to complete her prescribed, six-month regimen, she told NBC News.

"I'm committed to finishing the rest of my chemo, which is 2 more cycles, March and April. I would love more than anything to be able to come home to finish it all. I miss my life so dearly, especially my mom, my cat and my boyfriend," Cassandra typed from her hospital room in an interview conducted via Facebook messages.

State child-welfare officials removed the teens's cell phone in December, Cassandra said. State workers returned the phone about six weeks later, based on her request. However, the device was not working well enough Monday to allow a phone interview, she said.

"I will never be okay with how this all happened — being taken away from home, hospitalized and especially being strapped to the bed for the surgery for the port placement. Although I haven't had any major side effects besides hair loss, I still wish I was given the right to explore and go with alternatives," Cassandra wrote.

"Anybody should have that right. Minor or not. But, hearing the wonderful news about being in remission — not having any visible signs of active Cancer is what helped me accept the chemotherapy, knowing it's working and I don't need any radiation. [That] encouraged me to keep going and just get it done and over with."

Cassandra was ordered into temporary state custody in January by the Connecticut Supreme Court. State justices ruled she was legally too immature to make her own medical conditions. They ordered her to continue chemo at a Hartford hospital where those treatments began in November. She was diagnosed in September.

Now, the teen wants to commute from her mother's residence to finish out her chemo sessions instead of being held against her will at the facility, said her lawyer, assistant public defender Joshua Michtom.

"She should be allowed to go home," said Michtom, who is scheduled to argue for Cassandra's freedom next Monday at a hearing in juvenile court.

"If, somehow, she shouldn't complete treatment, there's not a great risk that she would die. So, we're going to argue that at this point there is no imminent risk of harm," Michtom told NBC News.

"This is a kid who had a job [at a mall retail store], who was contributing to household finances, had a credit card that she was paying the bills on regularly. Now, she's lost the job. She's behind on her bills," he added. "It's not that she doesn't have the money to pay them ... She's in the hospital, and she just can't do it. So her whole life has been on hold."

The hearing next Monday presumably would pit Michtom's argument that Cassandra be released now against the stance of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF), which has retained custody of the teen since January.

"It just seems like there's no reason to postpone that another two months," Michtom said.

DCF Commissioner Joette Katz declined to respond specifically to Michtom's assertions that Cassandra is no longer a harm to herself and should be allowed to return home now.

"We are very pleased with Cassandra's progress toward a complete recovery," Katz said in a statement.

"We understand how difficult this has been for Cassandra and her family, but we have had full confidence throughout that the medical professionals involved in her treatment would be successful in saving her life," Katz zaid.

Michtom said that Cassandra's doctor told him that Cassandra is now in remission.

At Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford — where Cassandra has been undergoing her chemo treatments — a spokeswoman declined comment, citing patient confidentiality laws.

Doctors have said her odds of recovery are 80 to 85 percent with chemo, but that she would die without it.

Her mother, Jackie Fortin, has said she supports her daughter's decision.

"There's been a lot of misinterpretation and exaggeration about my mom," Cassandra wrote. "Through both the media and [DCF]. My mom in no way had an influence on my decisions.

"Last summer when doctors were trying to determine what was wrong with me and Cancer was in question I had told my mom that I would not do chemotherapy if it turned out to be Cancer (not knowing I wouldn't of had a choice). When I was diagnosed with cancer It broke my moms heart, she knew there was no changing my mind," she added in another Facebook message.

"Not that she didn't try-she tried to encourage me to do it, she told me a mother should never have to lose her child, and that we'll get through it. But that wasn't going to convince me. My mind was set on seeking alternatives for treatment. My mom loves me, she wasn't going to fight me. She decided to stand by my side, and support whatever it was that I wanted."

The remaining rounds of chemo can be completed in three-day stretches for which she could be driven from her mother's home back to the hospital, Michtom said.

She also takes pills and could "certainly do that at home, the public defender added. "As it is now, she is mostly at the hospital doing nothing."