Family Matters

Dying Mom with Cancer Makes Final Effort to Stay with Her Kids

Alaina Giordano, the mother with breast cancer who has been fighting a public battle for custody of her children, is on the verge of entering hospice. She is asking her estranged husband to allow their children to relocate with her to Pennsylvania, where her extended family lives.

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Alaina Giordano, the mom who made headlines last year when a N.C. judge awarded custody of her two children to her husband, at least in part because she was sick with cancer, is dying.

On her public Facebook page, Alaina Giordano Should Not Lose Her Kids Because She Has Breast Cancer, her nearly 24,000 followers learned over the past week or so that Giordano, 38, is preparing to enter hospice. In a letter written to Giordano’s estranged husband, Kane Snyder, Giordano’s sister, Lauren Giordano Kupillas, writes:

This could be our family’s final plea, so please listen with an open heart and mind.

As you know, Alaina does not have much time left. Per her doctors’ recommendation she will soon be leaving the hospital to go into hospice for her final weeks of life. Alaina has fought a brave fight from the beginning, but now the doctors are advising us that she should go home to Pennsylvania to be surrounded by her family. However, Alaina will not leave Chicago without Sofia and Bud. Those children have always been the guiding force in her life and her battle; no one can rip her away from them.

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The letter’s message was confirmed by Peter Kaufmann, a childhood friend of Giordano’s who has been serving as a spokesman throughout Giordano’s legal battles. In August, Giordano — who is from Pennsylvania — lost an appeal to keep her son and daughter, who are 6 and 12, with her in Durham, N.C., where the family moved several years for Snyder to attend business school at Duke University. Giordano was receiving treatment for Stage 4 breast cancer at Duke and did not want to relocate to Chicago last year, where Snyder had accepted a job with Sears.

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

Last summer, after her children were ordered to leave Durham for Chicago by Aug. 17, Giordano called upon her supporters to lobby for laws that would “eliminate medical bias as a deciding factor in custody cases.” Giordano, who had been accepted into a clinical trial at Duke that was not available in Chicago, said she intended to remain in Durham to continue her care, though she planned 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.”

Ultimately, motherhood won out. Giordano moved to Chicago to be near her kids, living in a sparsely furnished apartment in a city where she had no existing support network. As she’s grown sicker, her doctors have advised her to “go someplace where she is happy,” says Kaufmann.

Her mother, stepfather and two sisters live in Pennsylvania, and Giordano would like to spend the rest of her life surrounded by family members who can help care for her. But she’s not willing to leave her kids behind.

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“This woman has been taken through the wringer by the court,” says Kaufmann. “At this point, it’s not combative or vindictive. She just wants to go home in peace and have the kids with her while she’s still coherent.”

In court, both Giordano and Snyder were characterized as less-than-perfect parents. As I wrote in August:

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.

Snyder’s attorney, Jeffery M. Leving, questioned Giordano’s Facebook updates. The entire custody case was thrown out by a Chicago judge on March 28, leaving the two parents with shared custody — an arrangement whose details surrounding visitation and schooling would become decidedly trickier should Giordano move back to Pennsylvania. “This makes no sense,” says Leving. “If she wanted more time, why doesn’t her lawyer pick up the phone and and say, Jeff, she wants more time, can we work this out out of court?”

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Kaufmann says Giordano has communicated directly with Snyder, and Giordano’s mother has spoken with Snyder’s mother, the two grandmothers working together to potentially figure out a plan. The children’s summer vacation begins in five weeks, and Snyder’s mother told Giordano’s mother that she believes they may travel to Pennsylvania at that time. By the end of last week, Kaufmann says, Snyder had yet to respond to Giordano’s request.

“Alaina was told by the doctor that she has until June,” says Kaufmann. “There may not be five weeks.You can’t wait a week here or there when time is running out.”

As Giordano’s sister wrote:

Sofia and Bud need to have those few precious weeks or days with the only mother they will ever have. Please let’s not squabble over what little time is left.

PHOTOS: A Photographer’s Intimate Account of Her Mother’s Cancer Ordeal