“MDA responded to the denial directly and, advocating on Kelli’s behalf, made the case that the use of proton therapy was the only acceptable treatment. Within a week of filing their appeal, she was approved.”
Submitted by Dr. Kathleen Lauckner (mom)
I am the proud mother of a design engineer who still aspires to add a graduate degree to her future resume. I use the term “future” because her career plans were derailed dramatically in 2017 when, at the age of 28, Kellilyn began experiencing tingling and numbness in her legs and arms. At first, the numbness was intermittent. But when it became more prevalent, her primary care doctor referred her to a neurologist. After performing several electrodiagnostic tests to evaluate her nervous system from neck to feet, he requested that she have an MRI. As often happens, the insurance company denied it.
She continued working and going on with her life until July 27, 2017, when she experienced a seizure in the elevator at work. She literally “froze” while with her boss, who later told her what he witnessed and insisted that she go to the ER. We took her to the ER that night and requested an MRI. Once again, the MRI was denied… but a CT Scan showed that the left side of her brain was “dark,” which was enough of an anomaly to finally warrant the MRI. The MRI showed a mass present on her brain. Wanting a more detailed prognosis, a biopsy was performed at our local Dignity Health hospital by Dr. Bohdan Chopko, a collaborating neurosurgeon from Stanford Medical Center. We had been hoping for the mass to be diagnosed as a cyst or benign tumor; we were stunned to hear that it was classified as a Grade 2 Astrocytoma…brain cancer.
Once Kelli received the diagnosis, she was referred to Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada for a treatment plan. After reviewing her test results and pathology report, they recommended IMRT radiation with chemotherapy. The oncologist told us that due to the size of Kelli’s tumors and the massive radiation dose, the collateral damage to the rest of the brain would be catastrophic. The oncologist warned that Kelli would most likely lose her sight, memory and possibly be paralyzed. We decided to postpone treatment to receive a second opinion. After researching brain cancer, I chose to contact the Cancer Treatment Center of America (CTCA) – Tulsa.
CTCA-Tulsa quickly responded and even offered to pay for our travel and had us stay on campus while they evaluated Kelli. Unfortunately, CTCA’s team-approach to treatment was not much different than Kelli’s initial doctors.
Our search for a third opinion led us to MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDA) in Houston, TX. Their testing protocols were much more extensive than what was performed at the other facilities. We were delighted to receive their treatment plan that was based on a surgery-first approach. Kelli had complete faith in her neurosurgeon, Dr. Sujit Prabhu, after meeting him, and we promptly scheduled her treatment plan. Within weeks, Kelli began surgery.
The surgery was successful in every sense of the word. Dr. Prabhu removed 98% of the tumors, which negated the need to follow-up with both radiation and chemo. Kelli returned to work full-time on January 29, 2018 and was accepted into Graduate School (Master’s Degree program in Structural Engineering) in August that year. Fortunately, our daughter was spared the need for any radiation after her first surgery; but she would not be so lucky down the road.
In November 2019, an MRI showed that the brain tumor had begun to grow. We scheduled another awake-craniotomy surgery with Dr. Prabhu nearly two years after her first surgery.
This time was tougher on Kelli. The tumor surrounded an area controlling her facial muscles, and surgery wasn’t able to remove as much of the tumor. This time, Kelli needed radiation and chemotherapy to eradicate the remaining cancerous brain cells. At this point, we met with Dr. Arnold Paulino, who recommended proton therapy. Prior interactions with the Alliance had taught me that insurance companies usually deny this treatment, and sure enough, it was.
MDA responded to the denial directly and, advocating on Kelli’s behalf, made the case that the use of proton therapy was the only acceptable treatment. Within a week of filing their appeal, she was approved. Between March 17 and April 23, 2020 Kellilyn recieved 28 doses at MDA. Kelli was also prescribed oral chemotherapy that she takes 5 days a month, by Dr Carlos Kamiya. She is scheduled to complete this treatment on April 24, 2021.
Kelli is a determined, strong-willed woman and is doing well. Her last MRI scan showed no new growth, and she is listed as “stable.” We have personally experienced how medical advancements can save lives and believe that everyone who needs treatment deserves to receive the best option. We will always be advocates for the best health care possible.