Cancer-stricken First Nations girl forgoing chemo
A 10-year-old Ojibwa girl with cancer has quit her chemotherapy to pursue traditional Aboriginal treatments at the New Credit First Nation reserve in Ontario, prompting her doctors to contact the Children’s Aid Society.
Makayla Sault, who says she’s suffered horrible side effects from the chemotherapy for her acute lymphoblastic leukemia, explains her reasons for giving up the treatment in a video posted to YouTube this week.
“This chemo that I am on is killing my body and I cannot take it anymore,” she says in the video. “I have asked my mom and dad to take me off the treatment because I don’t want to go this way anymore.”
Makayla was receiving treatment at the McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ont., 45 minutes away from the New Credit reserve near Caledonia.
Nahnda Garlow, a spokesperson for the Sault family, said Makayla was suffering severe side effects from the chemotherapy, including mouth sores and severe nausea.
“Her mother and her father would have to watch her overnight to ensure that she didn’t choke on vomit because she was so weak that she couldn’t sit up herself,” Garlow, a journalist from the Two Row Times newspaper, told CTV News Channel on Friday.
When the Sault family informed Makayla’s doctors they would be seeking alternative treatments, the doctors immediately resisted, Garlow said.
“At first they said to the family that traditional medicines were 100 per cent ineffective,” Garlow said. “The doctors actually said to them that anyone who says that traditional medicines will heal this cancer should be thrown in jail.”
A representative from the hospital said she could not discuss the specifics of any patient’s situation, but did issue a statement outlining the hospital’s policy for families that refuse necessary treatment for their children.
“Health care professionals have a legal obligation to notify the Children’s Aid Society when any child requires medical treatment to cure, prevent or alleviate physical harm or suffering, and the child’s parent is unable, does not or refuses to consent to the treatment,” the statement says.
“Even while complying with our legal obligations, McMaster Children’s Hospital remains committed to fostering collaborative relationships with children, their parents and families.”
It’s pure ignorance to think that western medicine is the only answer, says First Nations healer James Carpenter, who claims to have successfully treated cancer, leukemia and other life-threatening illnesses.
“What medicine people do is they go to the spirit and ask that spirit and find a way within that person to help them,” said Carpenter, who works at the Anishnawbe Health Centre.
Legal experts Makayla has the legal right to choose an alternative course of treatment.
“If she is capable of making this decision, she has the right to make this decision that other people might not agree with,” said health lawyer Mark Handelman.
Chemotherapy has an estimated 80 per cent success rate among acute lymphoblastic leukemia patients who are Makayla’s age.
Garlow said she could not reveal specifics of the treatments Makayla has been undergoing at the reserve, but did say it involved nutritional and spiritual care.
Makayla says in the video that she has been off chemotherapy for two weeks and feels better already.
“I feel awesome. I gained some of my weight back. I’m eating and drinking and I can hold it all down. And I am getting my strength back,” she says.
Garlow said the typical nausea that comes with chemotherapy is worse for Makayla because of a genetic rarity called the Philadelphia chromosome.
“Saying that chemotherapy is the only way that First Nations people can treat their own children, that’s simply not the way that it is viewed within the Indigenous community,” she said.
Makayla decided to stop her chemotherapy treatment after a spiritual experience, she says in the video.
“I wish that the doctors would listen to me,” she says.
“I live in this body, and they don’t.”
The Children’s Aid Society announced late Friday afternoon that it’s requested a meeting with Makayla and her family to discuss balancing western and traditional medicine.
If there is no compromise, First Nations groups across Canada say they are ready to mobilize, and do whatever is required to keep the family together.