Kate Weissman sits at the edge of the patient table. Her oncologist goes over her medical records and says her most recent scans show no recurrence of cervical cancer.
“I am remarkably happy,” says Dr. Whitfield Growdon, a surgical oncologist who specializes in personalized care at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Weissman perks up and claps her hands. “Two years,” she says. “We made it two years.”
“It’s amazing,” Growdon responds. “It really is.”
At 33, Weissman is lean, athletic and strong – a powerful example of cancer survival. Looking at her, it’s nearly impossible to comprehend the battle she endured, whether it was her hair falling out or wondering whether she would live. She says she underwent 55 rounds of radiation, 17 rounds of chemotherapy and surgery to remove cancerous lymph nodes.
Her battle was twofold: the fight for her life and the fight with her insurance company, UnitedHealthcare.
Weissman was diagnosed with stage 2B cervical cancer in October 2015. She was treated with standard chemotherapy and radiation, but by spring 2016, a biopsy confirmed that the cancer had spread to her paraaortic lymph nodes, tucked behind the bowels and lying in front of the lumbar vertebrae.
Time was of the essence. After her lymph nodes were removed, her team of doctors wanted to target the cancerous area with a specialized treatment called proton beam therapy.
Weissman had six highly esteemed oncologists advocating on her behalf, including five who also teach at Harvard Medical School and a sixth who was once named among America’s top doctors by Newsweek. Aides in the offices of Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey also pressed UnitedHealthcare about covering Weissman’s proton treatment.
Her doctors believed that proton therapy would be the most effective treatment in curing her cancer because it could pinpoint the area around her lymph nodes without causing damage to nearby organs.
Massachusetts General Hospital has one of the world’s most established proton programs, dating to the 1960s. She started her original treatment at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and moved to Massachusetts General solely for its proton expertise.
Her doctors at both facilities believed that standard radiation could damage her small intestines, leading to “life-threa