HARTFORD, Conn. (AP/WTNH) — Cassandra Callender, who was forced by Connecticut courts as a teenager to undergo chemotherapy for cancer, has died after a five-year battle with the disease, her mother said Thursday. She was 22.
Callender, of Windsor Locks, died Tuesday at home, where she had been in hospice care for four months, Jackie Fortin said.
“The cancer never went away,” Fortin said. “They said they saved her life. They lied. She suffered for five years. It was horrific. If you did that to your dog, you’d get arrested.”
A judge in 2015 ordered Callender, known as “Cassandra C.” during her legal fight, to undergo chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She had refused treatment, saying she didn’t want to poison her body.
She and her mother had missed several appointments, and doctors notified the state Department of Children and Families, which stepped in, according to court documents.
A juvenile court judge removed Callender, who was 17 at the time, from her home and placed her under guard in the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
Her case went to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in January 2015 that the department wasn’t violating her rights.
The case was argued under what is known as the mature minor doctrine, centering on whether Callender was mature enough to determine how to treat her cancer.
Connecticut’s high court found that Callender, who had run away during a home visit, demonstrated she did not have the maturity to make her own medical decisions.
Doctors eventually implanted a port in her daughter against her will to administer treatment, Fortin said. She lived at the hospital for six months.
Callender disclosed in 2016 that a mass had been found on her lungs and that she would undergo alternative treatments.
At that point an adult and able to make her own decisions, Callender eventually agreed to more chemo, immunotherapy and other treatments, but the cancer spread, Fortin said.
“Some things work, some things don’t. Nothing always works. Neither is a guarantee,” she said. “That was the point we were trying to make all along. It should have been her choice.”
Children and Families Commissioner Vanessa Dorantes offered condolences Thursday.
“We are saddened to learn of the loss of this young life, and we extend our sympathies to Cassandra’s family during this very difficult and emotional time,” she said in a written statement.
During her illness, Callender gave birth to twin sons, who are now 19 months old.
Fortin is remembering her daughter as very intelligent and liked by teachers and peers, but said she was denied many of the joys of being a teenager, such as getting a driver’s license.
Her mother said she plans an online fundraiser to help pay for the funeral.
“I raised her to be a fighter, and that’s what she was,” Fortin said. “She went through hell. She never had a life. She never had a chance. I hold every doctor and nurse who touched her, DCF, the courts — I hold everyone responsible.”