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Cassandra Callender: Connecticut woman forced to undergo 'poison' chemotherapy as a teen dies at 22

In 2015, a judge ordered Callender,during her legal battle, to undergo chemotherapy for Hodgkin's lymphoma despite her refusal for the treatment saying she didn't want to poison her body
UPDATED MAY 15, 2020
Cassandra Callender (GoFundMe)
Cassandra Callender (GoFundMe)

Cassandra Callender has died after a five-year battle with cancer at the age of 22, her mother revealed on Thursday. Her case had made headlines when she was a teenager after she was forced by Connecticut courts to undergo chemotherapy for the disease. Jackie Fortin announced that her daughter died at home on Tuesday after being in hospice care for four months. "The cancer never went away," Fortin told AP. "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."

In 2015, a judge ordered Callender, known as 'Cassandra C.' during her legal battle, to undergo chemotherapy for Hodgkin's lymphoma despite her refusal for the treatment, saying she didn't want to poison her body. Following the order, Connecticut's Department of Children and Families stepped in and removed the then17-year-old Callender from her home and placed her under guard at the Connecticut Children´s Medical Center.

In January 2015, the state Supreme Court ruled that the department wasn't violating her rights by forcing the treatment. According to a report by ABC13, the case was argued under what is known as the "mature minor doctoring", which would determine whether Callender was mature enough to decide how to treat her cancer.

At the time, the state high court found that Callender had run away during a home visit and demonstrated that she did not have the maturity to make her own medical decisions. Fortin recalled how doctors implanted a port in her daughter against her will to take the treatment, and she had to live at the hospital for six months thereafter. In 2016, Callender revealed that a mass had been detected in her lungs and that she would opt for alternative treatments for the same. But an adult Callender eventually agreed to more chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and other treatments. Nonetheless, her cancer continued to spread. "Some things work, some things don't. Nothing always works. Neither is a guarantee," Fortin said. "That was the point we were trying to make all along. It should have been her choice."

Connecticut Department of Children and Families Commissioner Vanessa Dorantes offered her condolences on 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 statement.

Callender gave birth to twin sons during her illness. They are now 19 months old. Fortin remembered her daughter as an intelligent student who was well-liked by teachers and her peers. However, she noted that Cassandra was denied many of the joys of being a teenager, like getting her own driver's license,

Fortin now plans to set up a website to raise funds for her daughter's funeral.

"I raised her to be a fighter, and that's what she was," she 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."