Family Matters

Mom with Cancer Loses Custody of Kids

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For several months now, Alaina Giordano, a North Carolina mom fighting Stage 4 breast cancer, has been waging an equally tenacious battle with the legal system to keep custody of her children. On Friday, she announced that she had lost.

Her children, Bud, 6, and Sofia, 11, must move from Durham, N.C., to Chicago before the start of the school year to live with their father, Kane Snyder, ruled the North Carolina Supreme Court. They are scheduled to leave Aug. 17. The court declined last week to issue a stay of an interim custody order; the original order is awaiting appeal, which means Giordano could recover her children, though it may be unlikely that a court would want to uproot the children once again.

“My attorneys were hopeful,” she said. “It’s very disappointing.”

Earlier in the day, she issued a statement: “As I write today, I deal with the difficult recognition that my children will have to live 800 miles away from me, until my appeal can be heard,” Giordano said. “In the wake of this legal decision, my children and I now must grieve the pending loss of each other.”

(LIST: 12 Notorious Custody Battles)

Snyder relocated the family to Durham so he could pursue an M.B.A. at Duke; he later moved to Chicago to work for Sears.

In court, neither Snyder nor Giordano were portrayed as perfect parents, but is there even such a thing? There were mutual allegations of cheating, poor parenting, domestic violence and even jail time after both parents were arrested following a particularly unruly disagreement. But Giordano — who has portrayed herself in court documents as the primary caregiver — has rallied to her side thousands of supporters who believe she is being discriminated against for being sick.

Dr. Janet Horton, an oncologist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, where Giordano is being treated, has told the court that there is “no reason to believe that Ms. Giordano could not be one of those patients” whose cancer doesn’t progress further.

(MORE: Alaina Giordano, Mom with Stage 4 Cancer, Speaks Out About Losing Her Kids)

Giordano, 37, has been accepted for a clinical trial at Duke that is not available in Chicago; she was told she must live near a trial center in order to participate. She intends to remain in Durham to continue her care, though she plans to visit her children regularly. “To pass on an opportunity to participate in a clinical trial … I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t,” she says. “I’m forced to make a decision between seeing my kids every day and not living as long to be their mom.”

Giordano’s plight has gained traction through social-media sites. More than 21,500 people have Liked her Facebook page, titled “Alaina Giordano Should Not Lose Her Kids Because She Has Breast Cancer.” In her statement, she asked supporters to join her efforts to “eliminate medical bias as a deciding factor in custody cases.”

“My crusade begins today, and I hope my supporters who have numbered in the hundreds of thousands will now use their fervent energy to lobby for laws to be changed in their states as well,” she wrote.

Within hours of posting the court’s ruling on the page, she had received more than 200 comments.

“So unjust I don’t even have the words,” wrote Pauline Gaines on Facebook.

(MORE: Should a Mother Lose Custody of Her Kids Because She Has Cancer?)

Another writer, Kelly Fisk, invoked a quote she attributed to Nancy Reagan: ‎” ‘A woman is like a tea bag. She only knows her strength when put in hot water.’ Hang in there Alaina.”

Bonnie Rochman is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @brochman. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.