[Update] Mother of young cancer patient about to lose an eye: My child will die without seeing his father

Selman Çalışkan
6-year-old Selman Çalışkan has stage 4 brain cancer

Recent test results show that the condition of a 6-year-old boy with stage 4 brain cancer living in Manisa, Turkey, has worsened and that he is about to lose one of his eyes, according to the boy’s mother.

Selman Çalışkan is trying to fight the disease without his father, who is in prison on trumped-up terrorism charges. Selman was diagnosed with brain cancer a year ago. He underwent surgery at Izmir Atatürk Hospital on June 28, 2019 to remove a 5-centimeter-long tumor and was partially paralyzed after the operation.

The new tests show that the drugs that they had imported from Cuba didn’t work and that Selman’s condition has been deteriorating. According to his mother, Emine Çalışkan, the doctors said it was a miracle that he was still alive. She said her son was dying without seeing his father and had pleaded with the authorities to postpone her husband’s sentence. The last time Selman was able to see his father was in August 2019 — following the surgery, and only for five hours.

Selman has been traveling to the neighboring city of Izmir for all his treatments: chemotherapy, radiotherapy and physical therapy. Since his father is in prison, he and his mother have been taking these frequent trips (over an hour’s drive one way) with the help of friends, who have been kind enough to give them rides back and forth from the hospital. Unfortunately, the tumor has been growing despite the surgery and the various treatments he has received. They had started a new and costly type of chemotherapy that was expected to last for two years. The drug was imported from Cuba at a monthly cost of 26,000 Turkish lira (approximately 3,500 euros).

His mother, talking about a day they recently spent in the hospital, said: “They opened vascular access in his foot and administered the drug for half an hour. The vein was damaged and started to swell. They removed the IV and started a new one in his hand. His body had been burning with a fever since 6:00 a.m. After every chemotherapy session, he has a high fever for three days.”

Emine Çalışkan has been devastated ever since she received a medical report that said, “Your son has a 17 percent chance of survival.” She also has to work to take care of her family — Selman and his two older sisters.

Emine Çalışkan says the drug has a lot of side effects and has damaged her son’s veins.

Selman’s father, Rasim Çalışkan, is a literature teacher who was dismissed from his job at a public high school in the aftermath of a July 15, 2016 coup attempt. He was later arrested, on May 17, 2017, and sentenced to seven years, six months’ imprisonment for “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” He is accused of being a member of the Gülen movement, a faith-based dissident group targeted by the Turkish authorities. He was only allowed to visit his son once during this period — following the surgery, and he had only five hours to spend with him. Selman thinks he is away due to his job. Rasim has filed numerous requests to delay his sentence or to continue the rest of it under house arrest, but his pleas were all rejected.

Rasim Çalışkan has only been able to visit and hug his son once during this difficult period.

In a letter to Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu,  a prominent human rights advocate and a deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, Rasim Çalışkan said his wife can no longer bear it. “For how long can a mother who has to take care of three children, one of them seriously ill, with no financial means, taking medication herself for cardiac and psychological problems, withstand these difficulties?” he said.

He has also talked about how difficult it was for his wife to take their son to the hospital for treatment, saying: “We don’t have a car and my wife can’t drive. She has been asking our friends and neighbors to take them to the hospital in their cars. The current treatment will continue for two years. How can we continue like this?”

July 15, 2019 was Selman’s sixth birthday.

Rasim Çalışkan ended his letter with a plea: “As a father who has been in prison for the last three years and whose pleas to official institutions were all turned down, there’s nothing more that I can do. I feel lonely and helpless. I don’t know what else to do… I would like you to be my voice. My emotionally wounded wife and sick son are waiting for the help of a conscientious soul.”

Little Selman’s case is reminiscent of the story of Ahmet Burhan Ataç, who passed away last month after not being able to receive proper and timely treatment abroad as the Turkish authorities refused to issue his mother, who was under a travel ban, a passport. When they at last agreed after intense public pressure, it proved to be too late for the treatment. Ahmet was not even able to see his father, Harun Reha Ataç, who was similarly in prison on trumped-up terrorism charges, one last time. Ataç had worked at a student hostel that the Turkish government claims to have had ties with the faith-based Gülen movement.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding the failed coup of July 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization.” The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity. To date, no democratic country has declared the movement a terrorist organization.

Following the coup attempt and under the guise of countering terrorism, more than 130,000 civil servants were removed from their jobs, while more than 30,000 others are still in jail and more than 500,000 people have been investigated on allegations of terrorism. Barred from government positions, those who were purged or prosecuted are not even able to find employment under formal contracts in private sector companies that fear government reprisal because the authorities inserted notices into the social security database about purged public servants. This has sparked criticism that they have been subjected to a civilian death.

There have been cases where banks refused to open accounts for the “purged.” In another case a dismissed civil servant was deemed ineligible by Turkey’s Ministry of Treasury and Finance to benefit from a real estate tax break granted to people who have no income because his dismissal from public service means that “he failed in his duty of loyalty to the state”.

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