Teen Fights To Treat Cancer His Way

Starchild Abraham Cherrix looks out a window as he ponders a question during an interview at his home in Chincoteague, Va., Monday, June 26, 2006. Cherrix, who has Hodgkin's disease, refused a second round of radiation, turning to an organic diet and herbal supplements to treat his cancer.
Three months of chemotherapy last year made Starchild Abraham Cherrix nauseated and so weak that at times the tall, skinny teenager had to be carried by his father because he couldn't walk.

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

On Monday, Abraham and his family will be in juvenile court 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 favored intravenous vitamin C.