US teen fights to treat cancer on own terms

Three months of chemotherapy last year made Abraham Cherrix so nauseous and weak that at times the tall, skinny teenager had to be carried by his father because he could not walk.

So when he learned in February that the cancer was active once again, he balked when doctors recommended another round of drugs, as well as radiation.

"I think it would kill me the second time," said Abraham, who instead turned to a sugar-free organic diet, herbs and visits to a clinic in Mexico to treat his Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes.

Abraham and his family was expected to be in juvenile court yesterday for a closed hearing to determine whether the 16-year-old can make his own medical decisions and whether he can keep living with his parents and four siblings on Chincoteague, an island off Virginia's Eastern Shore.

A social worker had asked a judge to require Abraham to continue conventional treatment, and in May the judge issued a temporary order finding Jay and Rose Cherrix neglectful for supporting their son's choice to pursue alternatives.

Judge Jesse E. Demps also ordered the parents to share custody of Abraham with the Accomack County Department of Social Services; they face losing custody completely.

"It's scary that they can come in and they can do this to you," said Jay Cherrix, who runs a kayak business next door to the family's home.

"It's hard enough to deal with a child having this disease, and then to have to deal with this (court case) as if we were criminals," Cherrix said, his voice trailing.

Barry Taylor, Abraham's attorney, said the case could set a precedent allowing social workers to intervene in any situation in which they disagree with a family's decisions about medical treatment.

Mary E. Parker, director of the social services department, said she could not discuss Abraham's case because of privacy laws.

In a similar case, the parents of 13-year-old Hodgkin's disease patient Katie Wernecke won the right in November to make all her medical decisions after a court fight with child welfare officials in Corpus Christi, Texas. While doctors had recommended chemotherapy and radiation, her father favoured intravenous vitamin C.

Hodgkin's disease is considered very treatable through conventional means and has a five-year survival rate of at least 80 per cent, according to the Lymphoma Information Network.

Abraham was diagnosed last summer after he found a knot on his neck that turned out to be a swollen lymph node full of cancer cells. Tests revealed he also had a tumour near his windpipe.

To undergo chemotherapy, he made repeated visits to the nearest children's hospital, two hours away in Norfolk.

In December, Abraham learned there were no more active cancer cells. After active cancer cells were spotted again two months later, doctors wanted to give him massive amounts of chemo, plus radiation, Abraham and his parents said.

"They wanted to bring me to the brink of death, then bring me back, and try to restore me with stem cells," said Abraham, who is home-schooled and has a brother who is autistic and a sister who needs back surgery.

Abraham and his parents researched alternative medicine and heard about the Hoxsey treatment of liquid herbal supplements and a diet heavy on fresh fruits and vegetables. The treatment used to be available in the United States but proponents moved their clinic from Texas to Mexico in the early 1960s after repeated clashes with federal authorities.

Rose Cherrix said she supports her son's decision to follow this approach because he is mature and thoughtful.

Cherrix now administers herbs to his son four times a day, carefully decanting into a small measuring glass a dark elixir with ingredients such as liquorice and red clover. Father and son also pray together before Abraham drinks the concoction.

Jay Cherrix said he is not worried about Abraham using the method and will keep fighting for his son's right to continue it, even though he estimated medical and legal costs have helped put the family US$100,000 in debt.

Source: China Daily

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