Cancer, a burned-out home, and the blessings of friends

Kay Hartzell and her husband, Mike.

Kay Hartzell, 52, of Farmington has Stage IV metastasized ovarian cancer. Local doctors have told her there’s nothing more they can do for her. Insurance won’t pay for the treatment she’s undergoing so she’s sold land up north she wanted to leave to her children. Oh, and her house burned down.

“I’m so blessed,” she told me recently, without a hint of irony.

Hartzell’s story, no doubt shared by thousands of others, is a reminder that when it comes to cancer, insurance companies still call the shots.

Her cancer was first discovered in 2009 and, knowing nothing about cancer, she followed the advice of doctors at the Mayo Clinic. They told her to have chemo; she had chemo that almost killed her. They told her to have surgery; she had surgery. “They took two thirds of my rectum. I was, like, ‘well, thank you,'” she said.

“I was in denial,” she said. “I was doing what they told me to do and I figured I’ll never have to worry about it again.”

But the cancer came back, not long after her daughter’s wedding in 2012.

Her oncologist said there was nothing more he could do for her other than give her more chemotherapy and make her comfortable.

“I’m crying all the way home and then I said, ‘Wait a minute!’ I heard them say there’s nothing they can do for for me, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing I can do for me. They had me dying six months ago.”

With bad reactions to surgery and chemotherapy, she preferred more natural, less invasive approaches to fighting her cancer. She went to a facility in Mexico but it didn’t have the resources. She went to Cancer Treatment Centers of America “because they said they did things, but I got there and, no, they don’t,” she said. “They were nice, but they didn’t offer what I was looking for.”

She was looking for natural, less invasive treatment, just the kind of thing insurance companies don’t cover.

“I called a couple of places, but they were so expensive; they’re half the price of going to the Mayo Clinic. But the insurance will cover the Mayo, but they won’t cover any of this,” she said.

This” is the Reno Integrative Medical Center, which Hartzell describes initially as a “three-week boot camp” for cancer patients that costs $20,000. She still will get chemotherapy, but at a much reduced rate that didn’t leave her ill, and it was combined with glucose “so it goes straight to the cancer,” she says. After the initial boot camp, patients return once a month for three days. “You’re hooked up to an IV for four to six hours a day,” Hartzell said. Each visit costs about $7,000

“There’s a couple we know from Cannon Falls. Mayo told him the same thing. He has Stage IV bladder cancer. He went to Reno. Then he went back to Mayo and they said, ‘it’s not going to work.’ It did work,” she said. “And they still wanted to do surgery.”

Maybe her preferred treatment will work. Maybe it won’t. But definitely she’s on her own paying for it.

Fighting cancer is a challenge all its own. Nobody needs a house fire.

“I’d taken a sleeping pill,” she recalls about the night last July,”and I was thinking, ‘why is this not working?’ Then I hear popping sounds and thought my next-door neighbor was out shooting off more fireworks.”

But it wasn’t her neighbor. It was her house burning.

She and her husband, her son and his baby made it out alive. But now they had no home.

Over the next few weeks, however, dozens of volunteers combed through everything in the house, saving what they could before reconstruction.

“I’m feeling amazingly blessed,” she says. “We’ve had so many miracles come out of this, I can’t tell you. Just the help cleaning our house. We got the whole thing down to the studs.”

The family has spent the last six months in either a hotel or a townhome, but they hope to move back to a rebuilt home next month.

Kay Hartzell acknowledges she’s not feeling as well lately. “But I don’t want to spend my days being miserable and be awful to be around,” she said. “Yes, I’d like to stick around longer, but there’s no sense in being a pain in the butt about it. Don’t get me wrong; I have my days.”

She also has her friends, who are planning on a fundraiser next month in Lakeville to raise money for her fight.

For now, she’s been funding it with money from selling land her father and mother left her. “It was the one thing I thought I would hand down to my kids,” she said, “But they’re, like, ‘no, we’d rather have you.'”

“She was struggling with that a lot,” her daughter, Carrie Rademacher, says of the money issue. “Her whole search for finding a way to beat cancer, it’s not just for herself. She wants to find an affordable way for everyone.”

“If it can pay for three or four treatments, it would be awesome,” Kay Hartzell says, when asked about the benefit’s goal.

“The only thing that keeps us afloat is faith,” she says. “And my husband has uber amounts of it. He just trusts that God is going to take care of everything. I know he comes close to breaking sometime.”