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Mom says no, but court orders chemo

Doctors say her oldest son's cancer could return without the treatment.

Published April 13, 2007

[Times photo: Mike Pease]
Daniel Gomez, 10, sitting at the dining room table with his mother, Natasha Esteras, is free of cancer after having a tumor removed, his mother says.

LAND O'LAKES - Natasha Esteras says she will continue to fight to decide what is best for her son.

Even if doctors say her decision not to let 10-year-old Daniel Gomez undergo chemotherapy and radiation - preventive measures to keep a fast-growing cancer from returning - is the worst she could make.

It's no longer the mother's call. Circuit Judge Linda Babb Wednesday ordered Esteras to begin treatment for the oldest of her three children.

The mother said Thursday she will comply with the court order - for now. But Esteras also wants to get her own lawyer and keep fighting.

Daniel's test results say he is free of the cancer that surfaced in February, according to his mother, when a tumor was discovered and later removed from his testicles. Rhabdomyosarcoma is a malignant, fast-growing sarcoma that strikes children.

"If something comes back that says he has cancer, I have no problem with the treatment," she said. "But if he has no cancer, I'm not just going to let it go like that.

"Chemotherapy causes a lot of sickness to the body. I don't want him to have . . . to live with the complications for the rest of his life."

But that increases the risk the cancer will return, doctors say. According to the motion filed by the State Attorney's Office asking the judge to intervene, the consequences of delaying medical action could be fatal.

"(Daniel) has at least a chance of long-term survival if he receives this treatment and an 80 (percent) or greater chance of dying from this cancer if he does not have this treatment," the motion says. "Everyday that chemotherapy is delayed it increases the risk."

The mother says she's done her research and wants to try alternative medicine. But her desires clash with the national standards for treating her son's cancer, according to Dr. Jerry Barbosa, medical director of pediatric oncology at All Children's Hospital, who treated her son.

"Of course, it weakens the immune system ... ," he said, but "the benefits of chemotherapy and radiation far outweigh the risks."

The struggle between the mother, the doctors and now the state of Florida is complicated by personality conflicts and what Esteras said was a painful episode for Daniel at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital of Tampa.

It was there her son was first diagnosed and underwent surgery. But her son suffered stomach complications and was left sickly, the mother said, then left in pain after a nurse botched inserting a needle into an IV access port in his chest.

So Esteras checked him out. She took Daniel to All Children's in St. Petersburg, but clashed with doctors there, including Barbosa, who testified for the state at Wednesday's court hearing.

Esteras said she doesn't want to go back to All Children's. She would take her son to St. Joseph's but said the hospital won't re-admit him.

Hospital spokeswoman Lisa Patterson said there may be some confusion between the parties.

"In general, a physician admits a patient to a hospital," she said, "and our hospital has not refused care for her family."

The mother said her court-appointed lawyer told the judge about Esteras' conflicts with the hospitals and another facility might be found.

But the only other options for treatment are in Orlando or Gainesville, according to Barbosa. Esteras is a 26-year-old single mother who also cares for a 7-year-old daughter and a 13-month-old boy

Court records show in 2005 she pleaded no contest in Hillsborough County to misdemeanor charges of larceny, petty theft and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Esteras says she relies on her parents for support until she can get back on her feet.

To her, it's about a mother's right to decide. But to Barbosa, it's much more important than that.

"I think the fundamental question here is what is more important, a parent's right to decide or a child's right to live?" the doctor said. "You tell me what's more important."

Jamal Thalji can be reached a or (727) 869-6236.


Opposing views on treatment

STATE ATTORNEY"(Daniel) has at least a chance of long term survival if he receives this treatment and an 80 (percent) or greater chance of dying from this cancer if he does not have this treatment..."NATASHA ESTERAS"Chemotherapy causes a lot of sickness to the body. I don't want him to have . . . to live with the complications for the rest of his life."

[Last modified April 12, 2007, 23:18:00]

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