For any cancer patient, the automatic question to a diagnosis is: Why me?
Lou Lovingood may not have the answer, but she’s determined to make the most of an opportunity, which is how she’s come to view her experience with breast cancer.
She is the 500th patient to graduate from treatment at the Provision Center for Proton Therapy.
The announcement was greeted Thursday with balloons, a gaggle of Lovingood’s family and friends, local media coverage and Provision employees dressed in pink.
“Six months ago, I had no idea there was another graduation in my future,” Lovingood told the gathering. “This was not my plan, not my idea and certainly not my choice, but in the midst of the storm we have certainly felt God’s presence and are grateful.”
Lovingood was diagnosed in February with bilateral breast cancer at the Knoxville Comprehensive Breast Center where a mammogram found a 2 millimeter lump in her left breast and a subsequent needle biopsy discovered another 6 millimeter lump in her right breast. She had a lumpectomy in March and was advised by her surgeon to consider proton therapy because of the exposure conventional radiation would give to her heart and lungs. Studies have shown that women successfully treated for breast cancer with conventional radiation therapy are at significantly higher risk for heart disease and secondary lung cancer years.
When she walked into the Provision Center for Proton Therapy for her initial consultation, “I was scared,” she said.
It was hospitality coordinator Sharon Bishop, herself a breast cancer survivor, who reassured her.
“She looked at me and said, “You’re going to be okay,” Lovingood said. “My husband says she’s director of first impressions. She really touched my heart.”
Bishop, who herself has suffered heart damage from conventional radiation treatment, also was the one who convinced Lovingood to treat her cancer with protons.
“She said, ‘I would have paid any amount of money if I had had the option of proton therapy,’” Lovingood said.
For the Lovingoods, it was a big choice to make. Lou’s insurance provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee has denied coverage of the treatment—twice. Provision physician, Dr. Tamara Vern-Gross, is appealing a third time. In the meantime, the family decided to commit to paying for the treatment themselves if necessary. Lovingood is the first Provision patient to receive proton therapy for bilateral breast cancer.
“We made a family decision that was what we were going to do no matter what,” she said.
Provision Healthcare opened the proton therapy center in January, 2014, and since then has offered treatment to patients suffering from a variety of cancers including head and neck, lung, esophageal, prostate, brain, bladder, sarcoma, tongue, lymph and colon as well as pediatric cancers. The center, which has three treatment rooms, currently serves about 80 patients per month. Patients travel to Provision from across the country and around the world, including England, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Mexico and Brazil.
Lovingood’s experience with the insurance company, and her conviction about the benefits of proton therapy, have led her to see the opportunity in her breast cancer battle—urging insurance coverage of proton therapy.
“It makes me absolutely furious. It’s wrong for insurance companies not to provide the best possible care,” she said. “What I have learned is proton therapy is better, and it’s worth paying for.”