What a mother wouldn’t do: Mom skips chemo to help son

Fred Hanson

Even as classes got under way this past week, Christine Anderson still couldn’t make up her mind on where to send her son, Gavin Kennedy, to school this year, or whether to simply try to home-school him. For Anderson, the decision involves not just her son’s future, but her own.

In late July, Anderson, 59, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her doctors want her to start the chemotherapy and the radiation treatments to fight the disease as soon as possible. But if the choice came down to getting the treatment or doing what she thinks is best for Gavin, 7, she is willing to sacrifice her own well-being.

 “I don’t know if I can do that (chemotherapy and radiation) and the home schooling at the same time,” Anderson said.

 Anderson, 59, and cancer are on familiar terms.

 In the past 40 years, she has beaten ovarian, stomach and breast cancer.

 “They all can kill you, but this is a tough one,” she said.

 She’s also been disabled by injuries from a car accident four years ago, a rear-end collision with a drunken driver in Dedham. She’s lost count of the number of surgeries she’s had.

 Her doctors have warned her that if she doesn’t begin treatment soon, “I won’t be here next school year,” she said.

 School redistricting

 The issue Anderson has with the Randolph schools is Gavin’s transfer from Martin Young Elementary to John F. Kennedy Elementary under a redistricting plan that took effect with the new school year.

 The purpose of the plan was to draw the district lines so that nearly all of the town’s elementary students lived within two miles of their school, eliminating the need for bus service and saving $452,000.

 Nearly half of the district’s elementary students are attending different elementary schools this year.

 Gavin attended first grade at the Young School last year. She felt that Gavin, who has dyslexia, was making progress there and the staff had gotten to know him.

 A special-education advocate for 30 years, she isn’t sure things will be the same at the Kennedy School.

 “It’s hard for a kid his age to be ripped out of a school,” she said. “I don’t want to give him any more problems. I want to see him go forward. I don’t want to see him fall back.”

 She’s concerned about the quality of the education Gavin would get at Kennedy, which has been identified by the state for corrective action. The school has not met goals for improving scores on the state’s MCAS test to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Law.

 Even after hearing her condition, school administrators would not grant her transfer request because of overcrowded classes.

 Anderson is adopting Gavin, who was born to the daughter of one of her friends. Except for some visits to his birth mother and Gavin’s biological siblings - which did not go well, she said - the two have been together since he was born.

 “He gives me so much. I’m lucky to have him,” she said.

 Anderson has four other children, whose ages range from 37 to 41.

 Instead of going to school Tuesday, Gavin was showing off his collection of dinosaurs to visitors and going over the exercise in a phonics notebook with his mother.

 Gavin learned card games this summer during their camping vacation together. He’s interested in history, likes gardening and is a big fan of the New England Patriots.

 He said he missed going back to school with other kids.

 School committee Chairman Larry Azer said the transfer request would be reviewed once officials have a better idea of what the system’s enrollment will be.

 “I would be cautiously optimistic we can accommodate some of the voluntary transfer requests,” Azer said.

 “I wish we could say yes to everybody, but we’re not in a position to.”

 Requests rejected

 School Superintendent Richard Silverman told the school committee Aug. 23 that of the 144 requests for transfers between elementary schools, 90 have been turned down because of space constraints. School officials are expecting elementary class sizes to rise because of cuts in the teaching staff.

 Azer said he wasn’t familiar with Anderson’s situation until he heard about it from a reporter.

 “It’s unfortunate she feels she needs to go to those lengths” to try to keep her son in the same school, he said.

 Anderson said she still may change her mind about passing up her treatment to home-school Gavin.

 She plans to meet with Kennedy School staffers to see if they can change her mind. She also may wait another couple of weeks to see if school officials change their minds on the transfer request.

 “I’m just so torn,” she said.

 As for her cancer, she plans to keep fighting.

 “I have a great attitude for healing,” she said. “I will fight this. I will beat this.”

 “I will do my best to be here for Gavin, no matter what,” she said. “I promised him I’d be here until I’m old and gray and he’s all grown up and ready to give me a grandchild.”

Fred Hanson of The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Mass.) may be reached at fhanson@ledger.com.