Friends, neighbors and strangers from across the state have done for Judy Marsh what her insurance company would not -- pay for her cancer treatment.
With time running out and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina still reviewing her file, the 49-year-old Pasadena woman with breast cancer said yesterday that enough money has been raised to send her to Durham for treatment.
"It is just incredible," she said. "I'm overwhelmed with it. It has made our Thanksgiving."
Marsh found out she had cancer two years ago. Regular doses of chemotherapy haven't helped, and the tumors spread to her lungs.
Her doctors say her best chance at survival is an autologous bone marrow transplant, in which her bone marrow is removed, frozen and filtered back into her body after high doses of chemotherapy are administered.
Blue Cross officials first told Marsh her policy would pay for the treatment, then told her she was not covered because the procedure was deemed "experimental." The company is now reviewing her file. But despite pressure by her lawyer, no decision has been made. Marsh has until the end of the month to undergo the procedure.
Although the insurance company says the procedure is experimental, at least four women in the county with the same problem as Marsh's have either negotiated settlements or have won court fights forcing insurance companies to pay for the procedures.
And even though Marsh appears headed for Duke University Hospital in Durham, her attorney, Richard Carter, said yesterday he will file suit against Blue Cross in county Circuit Court, either asking for an injunction to get them to pay or to help Marsh recoup the money she is spending.
In the meantime, Marsh said she has collected about $70,000 in donations. She and her husband, Roland, will put in an additional $26,000 to get the $96,000 Marsh needs to enter the Duke University Cancer Center.
She will need another $55,000 to pay for the treatment, so the fund-raising effort hasn't stopped.
"We are having a dance at the end of November," said Dawn Munaw, a waitress at Cookie's Kitchen, a Pasadena restaurant that has helped raise money.
Marsh said she will probably drive to North Carolina on Monday and be admitted to the hospital Tuesday. She will then be placed in isolation and will start undergoing the procedure Wednesday.
Once in isolation, she will not be able to see anyone, even her husband, for about a week. When her bone marrow is removed, she will have no immune system -- so any germs she comes in contact with could kill her.
"I won't be able to have anyone in the room for some time," Marsh said.
"That is going to be the hardest part. Isolation is not going to be good for me because I love people and I love to be around them."
Her husband's cousin, Diane Blake, auctioned off a week at her Ocean City condominium -- so far, more than $30,000 has been raised and people are still buying the $5 tickets.
She said that after a column by Michael Olesker appeared in The Sun last week, donations started pouring in.
"Every day the post office box was filled with letters and checks and nice notes," Marsh said. "I'm keeping them all and hopefully some day I'll be able to do something with them and let people know how much they helped."