Defiant and Exhausted, Teens Refuse Cancer Treatments

ByABC News
July 21, 2006, 6:11 PM

July 24, 2006 — -- As he waited alone in the hospital for his chemotherapy treatment, 16-year-old Billy Best watched the other children with cancer.

He noticed how frail they looked and how much sicker they had become since they had first entered.

Then his attention turned to his nurse, who donned unusually thick rubber gloves. He asked her why she needed such intense protection.

He was shocked by her answer: The chemo he's about to receive could burn her skin, she told him.

It was then that Billy ran away from chemotherapy, once and for all.

"I felt like I was going to die," he said, adding that he had been hit by a truck before and that the chemotherapy "was a lot like that."

That was more than a decade ago. Since then, there have been other teens who have made similar decisions, such as the currently ongoing legal case of 16-year-old Starchild "Abraham" Cherrix, who is trying to refuse cancer treatments in Virginia. On Friday, A judge said Abraham must report to a hospital by Tuesday and accept treatment that doctors deem necessary, the family's attorney said to The Associated Press.

These teens' ordeals point to the complex controversy surrounding teen cancer treatment.

While traditional medicine says that chemotherapy, radiation, and stem cell transplants are the only options available to treat cancer, there are a number of alternative treatments that some say are successful, too.

Some of these methods include diet management, electrode therapy, herbal and plant extracts, supplements, and oxygen treatments.

If an adult were to choose one of these, a physician would acknowledge that decision and uphold it, even if it meant his or her patient could die.

When a teenager wants to do the same, it can quickly become a legal battle between the teen and his doctors.

Is that fair?

Billy Best was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma at age 16. At the advice of his physicians, he began chemotherapy immediately. Throughout the experience, Billy says he was very sick and could barely move.

The experience left him feeling so bad that he felt he would rather run away than continue the treatments.

So he did.