Mom beats cancer, fights for insurance to cover alternative treatments

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A young mother received dreaded news from her doctor: a cancer diagnosis. Then, she learned her insurance wouldn't cover the treatment.

Proton therapy is an alternative treatment that is offered in less than 30 facilities in the country, one being in eastern Tennessee. This week, cancer survivors are fighting to make sure it's covered by all insurance providers.

A wife and a new mom, Alexa Gash, 29, and her family just moved to Tennessee for her husband to take the job as a University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, basketball coach.

Little did they know, heartbreaking news was soon to shatter their picture-perfect world.

"I was brushing my teeth one day, I hit it and had a little bit of blood when I rinsed my mouth," said Gash.

She got a biopsy and three days later, got the call back from the doctor.

"Those three words that you don't ever want to hear, 'you have cancer.' I was devastated, as you can imagine," she said.

She started researching treatment options.

Even after surgery to remove the tumor, Gash would still need radiation and chemotherapy.

"I would have possibly things to deal with such as swallowing dysfunction or loss of certain glands, such as my salivary glands," she said.

She found another option: proton therapy. With a treatment center in Knoxville, recovery seemed to be falling in place.

"I looked at my husband, and I said, 'This is where I want to be, no matter what it takes.,"

However, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee won't cover proton therapy treatment for her tumor, citing that insurance company said the new treatment is still in experimental stages.

"You have that fear when you're waiting for the insurance company to approve you, your cancer could be getting worse or spreading," she said.

She sent letters to her insurance company, three appeals and three denials for coverage.

"I'm thinking in my mind back to, 'I just want to get this tumor out of my body, I don't want to have cancer anymore,'" she said.

There was a loophole, though. The proton therapy facility has a financial assistance program that covered Gash.

Through seven weeks of treatment, the family drove along the road to recovery every day from Chattanooga to Knoxville until good news finally came.

"I was told I was in remission," she said. "Cancer-free, which is the best news ever."

The tumor was gone, but the scars from her battle for coverage are still healing.

Gash is joining other alternative cancer treatment advocates in Nashville this week, hoping to convince lawmakers to pass a bill that would include proton therapy as an approved method of treatment for insurance companies.

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