Cancer patient asks for reprieve in custody dispute

Staff WriterJune 3, 2011 

— The cancer-stricken mother who took her custody tug-of-war public has asked a judge for a reprieve 15 days before she is to turn over her children to her estranged husband nearly 800 miles away.

Alaina Giordano, a Durham woman with advanced breast cancer, is trying to maintain primary custody of her 11-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.

Giordano is appealing a Durham District Courtjudge's order that awarded Kane Snyder, her estranged husband, primary custody of their children. She has asked for a stay so she won't have to send them off to Arlington Heights, Ill., outside Chicago, where Snyder lives.

Last month, shortly after District Court Judge Nancy Gordon awarded primary custody to Snyder, Giordano rallied thousands of sympathetic supporters to her cause. Through a blog, Facebook page and online petition, she focused on one aspect of the judge's lengthy order to seek support for her appeal.

On Wednesday, she filed court documents that included statements of support from friends and health care workers attesting that they thought she was up to the task of caring for her children in Durham.

In dozens of pages, Giordano is described as a devoted mother who, despite her illness, has participated in her children's classrooms and after-school activities and has arranged play dates, camping trips and one-on-one time with each child. They also say she has developed a network of friends who can quickly step in during times of need.

Giordano was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in February 2008. Health care workers said in the documents that though the cancer has spread to her bones and liver, it can be treated with anti-hormone therapies.

Dr. Janet K. Horton, an oncologist at Duke University Medical Center, said in the court document filed this week that Giordano's cancer is "presently stable," and that some patients may remain stable for years. "There is no reason to believe that Ms. Giordano could not be one of those patients," Horton said.

The tug-of-war between Giordano and Snyder included allegations of adultery, abuse and bad parenting from both sides. What has attracted interest from people not connected to the couple is the consideration that Gordon's ruling gave to Giordano's terminal cancer.

Giordano's health, Gordon said in her ruling, was "concerning to the court, in large part because the course of her disease is unknown."

In making her decision, Gordon also weighed a forensic psychological exam of the family, which recommended that if the parents did not live in the same city primary custody be awarded to the father. A health care worker who helped with the evaluation said children in such arrangements are better off with the "non-ill" parent, an opinion that sparked an outcry.

In a prepared statement Thursday, Giordano said, "This is my last chance to do whatever I can to keep my children here, in Durham, with my doctors, friends and family." or 919-836-4948

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