Friday is June 17, a day teeming with significance. On this day in 1928, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. In 1972, five guys were arrested for breaking into the Watergate complex. This year, it very nearly marked the day that Alaina Giordano said goodbye to her children.
But Giordano, who is battling metastatic breast cancer — as well as a petition by her ex-husband, Kane Snyder, for custody of their children — won a temporary reprieve on Wednesday from the N.C. Court of Appeals. Her children, Bud, 6, and Sofia, 11, will now be allowed to remain in her custody.
In April, Giordano’s situation grabbed worldwide headlines: a district court judge in Durham, N.C., had ruled that her kids would be better off with their father who lives in the Chicago area. The decision was rendered partly because, according to the court order, “children who have a parent with cancer need more contact with the non-ill parent.”
The judge, Nancy Gordon, set June 17 as the deadline for the children’s relocation. In light of the appeals court’s decision, however, the kids will travel to Chicago on Friday for a visit with Snyder, but will return to their home in Durham on July 10.
“This is the first step,” Giordano said late Wednesday night. “I don’t have to tell my kids on Friday when they leave that they’re moving. That is a huge relief.”
Giordano has lassoed social-media sites to publicize her plight, and more than 21,500 people have “liked” her Facebook page, titled “Alaina Giordano Should Not Lose Her Kids Because She Has Breast Cancer.” Multiple online petitions have gathered signatures in support of her fight; one has accumulated upwards of 100,000 names.
Complexity is the hallmark of many divorce proceedings, and this custody situation is no different, marked by mutual allegations of cheating, poor parenting, domestic violence and even jail time after a particularly nasty fight ended with both parents arrested. But what’s riled Giordano’s supporters is Gordon’s contention that cancer renders a mother unfit to care for her children.
When Snyder moved to Chicago in August for a job, the kids stayed with their mother in Durham. Court documents describe her as energetic and involved in her children’s day-to-day lives — carting them to soccer practice and on overnight camping trips — and her legal team submitted to the court statements from a network of friends who are ready to offer support should she need it.
Giordano’s cancer is stable and may remain that way indefinitely, according to court documents that cited Dr. Janet Horton, an oncologist at Duke University Medical Center where Giordano is being treated. “There is no reason to believe that Ms. Giordano could not be one of those patients” whose cancer doesn’t progress further, Horton said.
Last month, in an interview about Giordano’s case with Healthland, custody coach Deedra Hunter said that moving the children away from their mother made little sense:
Custody agreements, in theory, are based on what’s in a child’s best interest, but moving the children away from their friends, their schools and their mother at a time when her life expectancy is uncertain is “incomprehensible,” says Hunter, an Orlando mental health counselor who coaches women in custody battles and wrote Winning Custody: A Woman’s Guide to Retaining Custody of Her Children, based on her own divorce experience.
“Fathers absolutely do have rights, but the ones who would take children away from a dying mother…where is the compassion, where is the thought of the children?” says Hunter. “The kids would go through the terror and fear of their mother dying and then have to adjust to whole new surroundings. Later on, aren’t the children going to be angry at this man?”
Gordon’s original ruling — which granted Giordano holiday and weekend visitation in Chicago — allows for shared custody should Giordano choose to follow her children to Illinois. “Of course, in order to go to Chicago, she would have to leave her friends and medical team here — something that no cancer patient would ever want to do,” said her spokesman, Jordan Bressler, in an email.
For the next several weeks, Wednesday’s legal freeze will remain in effect while the court rules on whether it will suspend the children’s relocation until the actual appeal can be decided, a process that could take many months.
“If they grant a permanent stay, I’ll be over the moon about that, but until then I’ll be kind of on the edge of my seat thinking about what in the world I will do if it isn’t stayed,” says Giordano. “It’s been really hard, but I have to try to live a normal life and try not to think about it.”
Along those lines, she’s now making plans for the summer. Besides lots of pool time, Bud will attend a half-day musical dance theater camp; Sofia will spend a week at Camp Kesem, a camp for kids whose parents are battling cancer. Giordano expects that keeping her children busy will help take her mind off the legal drama.
“You know how kids are,” says Giordano. “They’re very demanding when they’re around so you don’t really have time to wallow.”