NASHVILLE — Lauren Ewing looked at her 2-year-old son and cried.
“I thought I am not going to be here to see him play much longer,” she said. “I am not going to be here to see him grow up. The thought just ripped my heart out.”
After ovarian cancer had metastasized throughout her body, she had undergone surgery to have 7 1/2 pounds of tumors removed — along with body organs. She barely survived that procedure in June, then was crushed to hear her bleak odds of survival even if she underwent chemotherapy.
Waif thin at 5-foot-6, she weighed only 86 pounds. Worried that the risks from chemotherapy would outweigh any benefits in her case, she felt hopeless and defeated.
“That’s when a little voice kind of spoke up in the back of my head and said, ‘That’s not the only option. Chemo is not right for you. Don’t do it,’ ” Ewing said.
This 32-year-old woman from Bellevue decided to fight her cancer with an all-natural regimen. She started seeing a physician who offered nontoxic cancer treatments, adhering to a strict diet and taking a multitude of supplements. The protocol appears to be working, but her health insurance — and many people’s — won’t pay for this alternative approach.
Expensive supplements aren’t considered medicines by insurers. And physician visits may not be covered.
While a section within the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover a wider scope of treatments, including the services of a naturopathic physician, there’s a caveat. The provider has to be a state-licensed professional.
“The fact of the matter is Tennessee is not a state where naturopathic doctors are licensed,” said Mike Jawer, director of government and public affairs for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
Only 17 states license naturopathic physicians. But that’s not the issue for Ewing.
She doesn’t go to a naturopathic physician. She sees a state-licensed M.D. at MindBody Medical Center who offers nontoxic cancer treatments, and she continues checkups with her cancer doctor.
MindBody Medical Center is an out-of-network provider. Her insurer, TennCare, won’t cover those visits, the IV treatments she receives there or oral supplements. She said her costs add up to about $900 a month.
Ewing, who shared Saint Thomas West Hospital pathology reports with The Tennessean to prove she has advanced cancer, is asking people to help her pay for the treatments through the GiveForward.com website.
At this point, her health is improving. She’s gained 10 pounds, and her blood levels for a biomarker associated with ovarian cancer are diminishing.
Tests for that biomarker, CA-125, conducted under the supervision of her oncologist, registered 90 in September, 67 in October and 56 in November, she said.
“If it keeps going down like this, 20 to 30 is remission,” Ewing said. “So I am 26 points from being in remission.”
The natural treatments, which include infusions of vitamin C and the antioxidant glutathione along with a diligent sugar-free diet (except for the natural sugar in berries), came after an aggressive surgical intervention.
“I almost died on the table,” Ewing said. “They had to call in the emergency team to put me back together.”
The prognosis she received wasn’t good. The doctor told her she had a 45 percent chance of living another three years and that even with chemotherapy she probably would not live past five years, she said.
“Chemotherapy is extremely toxic,” Ewing said. “It kills your immune system… Why would I go and take a drug that is going to kill off what little bit of broken immune system I have?”
While some cancer patients decide against chemotherapy in the belief that quality of life is more important than efforts to prolong life, Ewing says that’s not her goal.
“My scenario is not only to survive but to thrive and to help other people do what I did,” she said. “That’s my dream.”
-Tom Wilemon, The Tennessean