Woman's Cancer Fight Hits The Road

Long Odds Don't Frighten 49-year-old Pasadena Resident

November 27, 1990|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,STAFF WRITER

DURHAM, N.C. - Judy Marsh arrived yesterday at Duke University Medical Center more confident then ever she will leave cured of cancer.

"I know it's going to be really tough to go through," she said of her impending bone marrow transplant. "They are not painting a pretty picture about the procedure itself."

Despite the long odds she faces, you would never have believed Marsh was about to undergo a risky cancer treatment in two days.

Just 20 minutes before the 49-year-old Pasadena woman and her husband, Roland, left on the five-hour drive yesterday, Marsh was busy at her computer business, transcribing tapes for doctors.

"She'll work right up to the last minute," said her sister, Carol Pratesi.

Marsh didn't show any signs of worry about the trip until she said goodbye to her sister. Then she cried.

For Marsh, it has been a battle just to get this far.

She found out she had breast cancer two years ago. But regular doses of chemotherapy haven't helped, and the tumors spread to her lungs.

Her doctors say her best chance of 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/Blue Shield officials first told Marsh her policy would pay for the risky treatment, then told her she was not covered because the procedure was deemed "experimental."

Although the insurance company classified the procedure as experimental, at least four women with the same problem as Marsh's have either negotiated settlements or have won court fights forcing Blue Cross companies in several states to pay.

The company is now reviewing her file. Her lawyer said last week he will sue Blue Cross, either seeking an injunction forcing the company to pay or allowing the family to recoup the money it's spending.

The delays by Blue Cross nearly prevented Marsh from getting the procedure done, but the friends and neighbors in the community reponded to her pleas and donated close to $80,000.

That, combined with her family's $16,000, was enough to get her into Duke. She still needs $55,000 to pay for the entire procedure, however, so the fund-raising drive continues.

The effort already has paid off in big ways, as evidenced yesterday morning when Roland Marsh came home with a cashier's check for $80,000.

That capped a hectic Thanksgiving weekend, in which Marsh was busy preparing for her six-week stay in the hospital.

Every precaution had to be taken -- if Marsh became ill, the procedure could be delayed, and this may be her last chance to get into Duke.

Everything she brings into the hospital's isolation room must be as clean as possible; Marsh had to wash all her clothes at least twice and then wrap them in white plastic trash bags, for instance.

And for once, Marsh was glad stores already had put up holiday decorations.

"Usually I'm saying, 'Why do they do this so early?' I'm just really enjoying it because it may be all I see of Christmas. I feel like a part of it now."

Marsh spent the better part of the weekend shopping for presents, and yesterday they were stacked up in the downstairs study of the couple's Pasadena home.

"She buys for everyone she knows," Pratesi said. "She buys for all the little children in the neighborhood. She always does."

While Marsh was busy typing away -- she transcribes medical notes for doctors -- her husband was busy packing their pickup truck.

Roland Marsh will be staying in an apartment in Durham near the university hospital while his wife undergoes the procedure.

Marsh said she is not scared of what lies ahead. "I really feel so good about it," she said after arriving in Durham. "I am so worried about the tumors growing. I feel like this is the answer."

The Marsh's departure was quiet. A few neighbors came over to say goodbye, her courier for her business gave her a corsage and a friend gave her a Duke University T-shirt, which she plans to wear Wednesday when she is admitted.

Other family members and neighbors gathered at the corner of Mountain Road and Littleton Avenue to wave as the Marshes drove by.

Marsh's mother, Margaret Harris, said she was nervous about what her daughter is about to go through.

"I feel sad that she is going away," she said. "But I'm glad she is going to be cured. I hate to see her leave."

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