~ The following was published in The Floyd Press on July 10, 2008 and on their online site HERE.
When Rose Cherrix and her son Abraham first participated in the Spoken Word Open Mic at Floyd's Café Del Sol, they received a rousing round of applause when Rose told the crowd that Abraham recently had cancer but was now cancer free. A few in the audience remembered their story. It made national news when, at the age of sixteen, Abraham declined a high-dose round of chemotherapy and radiation and his parents were charged with medical neglect for supporting his decision.
In August of 2005, the Cherrix family was living on Chincoteague Island, Virginia, when Abraham discovered a lump in his neck while working at his computer. After it was determined that he had Hodgkin's disease - cancer of the lymphatic system - he received the standard round of adult chemotherapy. Although the treatment made him very ill, it seemed worth it when he learned the cancer was gone. But two months later it returned. Abraham didn't think he could bear a second stronger round of chemotherapy and the radiation that his oncologist recommended. "I was so weak my father had to carry me," he said about the first round of treatment.
His mother explained that chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkin's disease offers an 80 - 85% chance of recovery, but if the cancer comes back a second time the percentage rate goes way down. "An oncologist testified on our behalf that Abraham's chance of surviving the second round of chemotherapy and the radiation was only 15-25%," she said.
Considering those odds, the Cherrixes did some extensive online research and opted to try an alternative, all-natural treatment. Abraham made two trips to a clinic in Mexico where he received Hoxsey therapy, an herbal tonic that has been banned as a cancer treatment in the U.S. Using the tonic and an improved diet, his strength returned, and he felt hopeful hearing the success stories of others he met at the clinic, he said. But his treatment was interrupted by a court order.
When Abraham's refusal of prescribed treatment was reported to Social Services, a chain of events began that would thrust the Cherrixes in the media spotlight. Rose and Abraham's father, Jay, faced possible jail time after they were found guilty of medical neglect by the Juvenile Court. Abraham was threatened with foster care placement or juvenile detention if he didn't abide by the prescribed treatment. Now the family had two battles to fight - Abraham's cancer and the courts.
"On the day we were ordered to deliver Abraham to the Children's Hospital in Norfolk, to do whatever they said, we were in Circuit Court with an appeal. The judge approved the appeal. A week later we won the case," Rose remembered.
Meanwhile, Abraham became a patient of Dr. Smith, an oncologist in Mississippi who uses a combination of alternative and standard cancer treatments, including Immunotherapy, a therapy that involves stimulating a patient's immune system to attack malignant tumor cells. The authorities were comfortable knowing Abraham was being treated by a U.S. oncologist who was providing treatments with some proven success. The Cherrixes were comfortable with Dr. Smith's approach. They were also pleased with the results. Under Dr. Smith's care, Abraham has been cancer free for over a year.
Abraham's illness and the court battles that followed took a heavy toll on the Cherrix family. They lost their home, their kayak tour business, and Rose's marriage to Abraham's father fell apart. But as bad as things were, many people came forward to offer support and kindness. "We got to see the good in the world and the genuine caring of so many," Rose stressed.
One of the people who came to the Cherrix's aid was a woman that Rose refers to as "our angel." Sharon Smith, a private citizen who the Cherrixes didn't know beforehand, was so inspired by their story that she contacted them to offer help. "She found Dr. Smith (no relation), our attorneys, handled the media, and put herself on the line financially, Rose said.
Elizabeth Simpson, a newspaper reporter for the Virginian-Pilot, played a key role in bringing attention to the Cherrix's plight for health care freedom, and she still keeps in touch with the family. The local radio station also got involved. "Without the media I don't think we could have done it," Abraham said.
State and local government also came to the Cherrix's aid. Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonald filed a brief to the Circuit Court in support of the Cherrix's right of appeal and allowing time for it to play out. Virginia Beach Delegate John Welch III made a statement quoted in the Associated Press, saying Abraham's parents were "fiercely devoted to their son, and have fully dedicated the family's resources to helping him get well." Believing that the medical community had "no reason to take over parental rights," he drafted a bill bearing Abraham's name that would allow children fourteen and over to help make their own medical choices.
"Abraham's Law" was passed by the General Assembly in 2007 and signed into law by Governor Kaine. Abraham spoke on his own behalf at a congressional hearing in Richmond in the lead-up to the bill being passed.
Neither Rose nor Abraham hold any grudges related to their ordeal. "We tried to concentrate on making something good come from something bad," Rose said. Abraham is able to find humor and irony in what he has been through. "It was the most fun time of my life. I like to meet new people. I took my first plane ride, a cross country bus trip, and went to a foreign country," he joked.
The Cherrixes landed in Floyd in the spring of 2007 by way of an unlikely sequence of events. After losing their home, Rose began looking online for rentals. She needed something affordable and large enough to raise her five children, two of whom have autism. While online, she was browsing through emails on Abraham's website, a site dedicated to sharing health information and providing updates on Abraham's progress. Rose explained that she and Abraham had to stop reading the emails because there were so many. But on that day, a name caught her eye. Because Abraham's full name is Starchild Abraham Cherrix, she felt an affinity when she saw another unique name in an email written by a Floyd girl named "Cherub."
Abraham and Cherub became friends and when Rose discovered a rental listing for a farmhouse off Route 8 in Floyd, she asked Cherub's mother, Linda Kearn, to check it out. The roomy size of the house and the natural rural setting seemed a perfect place for the Cherrix family to thrive, and for Abraham to pursue his interests in art and the study of computer engineering.
Abraham and Rose both agree they are in the right place. "We call Floyd a healing place. Everyone has been so welcoming and accepting," Rose said. "People do what the want and no one is criticized for what they believe," added Abraham, who is now receiving holistic health care from Floyd's Dr. Garry Collins.
Mother and son recently returned to the Spoken Word stage to share their original poetry. Another round of applause ensued when Rose announced that Abraham had just turned eighteen. Abraham, who recently added "Dreaming Wolf" to his name, read a poem about a wolf. Rose read a tribute for her son's birthday, titled "Loving You by Letting Go." ... Instead of me giving you strength ... You gave me strength ... When our world was falling apart ... You were there for me ... Loving me - holding me ... So wise beyond your years ... Yet so much to learn still ... she read.
An eighteenth birthday is a milestone in any young person's life. In Abraham's case it's especially true. "I guess I got smarter overnight," he joked, referring to his newfound freedom to legally make his own health care choices. "Age is not the issue. Health care choice should be based on maturity level," he added. ~ Colleen Redman
Note: More about Abraham and his mother at the Spoken Word Open Mic in Floyd is HERE. This entry was originally posted on Loose Leaf Notes on July 14, 2008.