Cancer Be Not Proud

Judy Marsh Starts Her Bone Treatment

November 28, 1990|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,STAFF WRITER

DURHAM, N.C. - Judy Marsh spent yesterday morning grocery shopping for her husband, Roland, stocking up on frozen dinners he can pop in the microwave at his temporary apartment.

The couple then drove to the Pizza Hut on Erwin Road, just down the road from Duke University Medical Center, where Marsh was headed for a bone marrow transplant.

"I figure I won't get pizza for a while," said the 49-year-old Pasadena woman, who is hoping the procedure will cure her of breast cancer.

After lunch, Marsh walked into the hospital, handed over two checks totaling $96,000, and was brought up to Room 9213 in the isolation ward.

She and her husband donned smocks and disappeared from view.

This afternoon, Marsh will take the first steps in what doctors say is her best chance to survive breast cancer -- an autologous bone marrow transplant.

The isolation room is a small but cozy nook on the ninth floor that offers a nice view of the Duke campus.

Anything that comes into the room must be sterilized. The room is loaded with hospital equipment, "so we don't cross-contaminate between rooms," said Mary Ann McCowan, the head nurse of the Adult Bone Marrow Transplant Unit.

Today doctors will remove about one quart of Marsh's bone marrow from her hip and then freeze it.

High doses of chemotherapy -- three to five times the amount given during normal treatment -- will be administered Friday and Saturday to kill the red and white blood cells in the remainder of her marrow.

The marrow removed will be injected into Marsh's body next week to rejuvenate the marrow destroyed by the chemotherapy.

McCowan said that while the whole procedure is critical, the most crucial times are during chemotherapy and when the bone marrow is injected back into Marsh's body, because it could be rejected.

"When you get the bone marrow back, it is like a blood transfusion," she said. "It is really the period after the chemotherapy is given when the immune system is depressed."

Marsh will remain hospitalized four to six weeks.

McCowan said Duke has done 120 bone marrow transplants to treat breast cancer since the center opened six years ago. Statistics on the success rate were not available.

Marsh's visitors will be limited to her immediate family. She will be on a special diet that forbids fresh fruits and vegetables because they could be contaminated.

When she checked into Duke at 1:20 p.m. yesterday, the first thing she had to do was hand over the checks to cover the initial expenses.

"I thought with all this money I would be going on a cruise," Marsh said as she snapped on her wrist ID bracelet. "But this is proof I'm going into the hospital.

"I want to thank everyone back home for giving me a chance to live," she said. "That's what they've given me."

Marsh found out she had breast cancer two years ago. Regular doses of chemotherapy didn't help, and the tumors spread to her lungs.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield first told Marsh that her policy would pay for the treatment, then reversed itself, saying the procedure was "experimental." The company is still reviewing her file.

Neighbors and strangers did what medical insurance wouldn't. They collected $80,000 by holding spaghetti dinners, taking up church collections and digging into their own pockets. They continue to collect money because Marsh needs $55,000 to cover the balance of her medical bill.

Although the insurance company says the procedure is experimental, at least four women in the county with the same condition as Marsh's have either negotiated settlements or won court fights forcing the company to pay.

Next year, Blue Cross will pay for bone marrow transplants for 1,200 women from across the country at selected hospitals, including Duke. The medical experiment will be supervised by the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda.

The New York Times reported Nov. 12 that the Blues agreed to start the trials after losing half the court challenges to its policy.

Dr. Bill Peters, head of the cancer center at Duke, was in Baltimore yesterday testifying on behalf of another Maryland woman battling Blue Cross over coverage of the procedure.

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