FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WISH) - A Fort Wayne girl is fighting for her life. She has an aggressive form of cancer that requires an equally aggressive approach to treatment. But this child is a ward of the state, and she said a secretive, slow-moving bureaucratic system may be delaying her care.
Quinnasha is a fighter. Smart. Strong. Tough. Monday, she escaped the pain and uncertainty of fighting cancer by enjoying family fun at her favorite Fort Wayne bowling alley. And for a while she was able to forget about the cancer that stole her arm - forcing a dramatic amputation of her shoulder. It's the same cancer that now has returned to try to take her life.
"I've been fighting for my life for almost two years," the teenager said quietly.
She was in remission briefly, summoning the courage to try out for cheerleading. She made the squad -- her proudest accomplishment. But now, she's learned that the cancer has returned, ravaging both her lungs.
"The choices was not to take chemo and take pain meds and go to hospice and die, or take this pill - and they don't guarantee that it will help - but … it could slow down the cancer," she said, explaining the options doctors gave her.
For Quinnasha, the choice was easy.
"I want to have chemo. I'm ready for this fight again," she said, smiling broadly.
But her fight is not only against the cellular mutation's virulent spread, it's also a war against a bureaucratic system that she said poses as deadly a threat as the illness itself. Quinnasha is a foster child. And the state must approve much of her medical care.
Before that can happen, all parties involved -- from her case worker to her guardian ad litem to her biological mother - must agree, and that plan must be approved by a judge. It's a process that exasperates her foster mother, who loves her as fiercely as children to whom she gave birth.
"No one understands that I'm advocating for her," Paulette Nellems said tearfully.
She's said hers are tears of frustration with a process that she said doesn't move with the urgency the situation should dictate.
For example, Quinnasha was diagnosed in July with an aggressive form of osteosarcoma that doctors said needed immediate treatment. But it took more than two weeks to complete paperwork to begin chemotherapy.
And when doctors discovered the cancer had returned days before Christmas, it took a full month to get a biopsy. The next day, doctors gave Quinnasha a week to decide on treatment. But now three weeks have passed, and she still waits for the state to approve a plan.
But she's not giving up. Quinnasha plans a future as an attorney, wife and mother.
"I love being around kids, and kids love me. So to be able to have kids and to have a wonderful husband, that would be great," she said with a grin.
Because Quinnasha is in foster care, her records are confidential, and Department of Child Services officials could tell us nothing about her care.
They did release this statement: "DCS does not require approvals prior to ANY medically necessary treatment for a ward. DCS does not practice medicine and relies on our partners in the medical community to care for those children who are wards of the state in an appropriate and timely manner."
Nevertheless, I-Tteam 8 has learned that a judge must hear Quinnasha's case before treatment can begin. That hearing is scheduled take place Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Quinnasha fears she won't see her 15th birthday, so her foster mother is throwing her a big party Sunday.
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It's very rare that a single person can reach across national, racial, and spiritual borders to bring such hope and healing.
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