EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Beth Galdo Desher was suffering from severe back pain in October 2017 after she finished multiple rounds of treatment for stage three bilateral breast cancer — cancer in both breasts — which she was diagnosed with nine months earlier.
“I got an MRI on my back and the results came back that I had four herniated discs, but it also showed shading in my bone marrow,” she said.
A biopsy tested positive for stage four metastatic breast cancer.
After fighting the disease for almost two years, her insurance company recently denied her coverage of tests needed to monitor her cancer. The insurance company paid for five previous PET scans, but when she went in for a sixth scan in August, it was denied. She and her doctor have filed appeals, but to no avail.
In a plea for help, the 42-year-old has taken to social media to share her story and her need for specific medical care to survive.
Metastatic breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, according to the American Cancer Society. While stage four is considered incurable, treatment can often shrink or slow the growth of tumors.
She had computerized tomography (CT) scans early on, but it didn’t pick up the cancer in her bone marrow. It wasn’t until she was diagnosed with stage four cancer that she started to receive positron emission tomography (PET) scans, a more thorough scan that “can sometimes detect disease before it shows up on other imaging tests,” according to Mayoclinic.org.
How much PET scans cost can vary by provider, insurance plan, locale and part of the body being scanned. A 2016 Forbes article stated the test can cost $5,000 or more.
On Oct. 1, Galdo Desher posted a YouTube video of her story on her Facebook page that has been shared and viewed thousands of times. As of Thursday, it had more than 5,000 views.
The research she’s done to learn about metastatic cancer shows the outcome is unlikely in her favor, but her feisty personality and optimism have fueled her charge to beat the deadly disease.
“I plan on fighting until I can’t fight anymore,” she said. “All that matters to me is to be able to spend the rest of my time with my family. I’m not giving up, and I’m not playing around.”
About 154,000 women in the United States are living with metastatic breast cancer, according to Susan G. Komen, a breast cancer research and support nonprofit. About 34% of those women have lived with the incurable disease for more than five years, according to the nonprofit.
The mom also plans to conduct an external review meeting to again appeal the insurance company’s denial. It’s her last line of defense, she said. If denied again, Galdo Desher plans to find another way to get the PET scan, whether that be raising money or reaching out to a nonprofit.
“The most important thing for me is to get my PET scan because being here for my kids is number one,” she said. “That’s why I’m as aggressive as I am. I’m 4-foot-11, and I have a mighty loud voice.”
She wanted the video to educate viewers on metastatic breast cancer, to remind people to listen to their bodies and to speak up when it comes to getting the care they need. Since posting the video, friends and community members have reached out and suggested she start an online fundraising campaign, but she’s not asking for money.
“There are so many foundations that’ll help, I know there are,” she said. “But I want those foundations (to help) people who don’t have insurance.”
Two people, among many, in Galdo Desher’s corner are her mom, Mary Galdo, and her friend, Stacie Haug.
“There are so many encouraging things now that I try not to dwell on the statistics,” Galdo said.
She believes her daughter will fight forever if she has to, and she’ll fight for other women, too.
“The fight’s not only for her,” Galdo said. “She’s fighting for everyone who has metastatic breast cancer.”
Watching her friend’s journey with cancer inspired Haug to get a mammogram, something she’d refused to do for years.
“She is the most positive person I have ever met,” Haug said of Galdo Desher. “She’s always upbeat, always talking positive and she does what she needs to do for herself. She’ll fight for what needs to get done.”
Haug added that because of her friend’s support, outsiders would never know she’s battling aggressive cancer.
Galdo Desher is most afraid of not being around for her two daughters, Abigail, 12, and Olivia, 14. Even though there are some days she has no energy and doesn’t feel her best, she still gets up to help her daughters get ready for school. She wants to watch them graduate high school, go to college and get married. She wants to live long enough to be a grandmother.
When Abigail hears that most women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer live only five years, she asks her mom whether they only have three years left together — a question that hits Galdo Desher to the core.
“I tell her, ‘Your mom doesn’t lose,’” she said. “I’m going to be the one who beats stage four cancer. Nothing’s going to stop me.”