Updated 16 hours ago

A woman from East Deer must make a decision that will change her life in the next four months: keep her UPMC oncologist but pay more for a secondary insurance plan, or risk finding another one of which the knowledge of his rare cancer is less sophisticated.

Brittany Eckert, 32, was diagnosed with uterine carcinosarcoma at the age of 29. Cancer, she says, usually only appears in postmenopausal women.

"I am one of the youngest cases with this type of cancer," said Eckert.

According to the National Institutes of Health, cancer accounts for less than 5% of all uterine cancers, and in the United States, about two in every 100,000 women are diagnosed each year. About 35% of patients survive five years after diagnosis.

Her primary care physician was informed for the first time that something was wrong with an annual health check in November 2015 and recommended she see an obstetrician-gynecologist.

In April 2016, Eckert had been diagnosed with aggressive and rare cancer, and in May 2016 she had a complete hysterectomy because she was found on 90% of her reproductive organs, she said.

A little over a year later, Eckert married Michael Eckert, his four-year-old boyfriend. The couple will never be able to have biological children.

Eckert's dilemma with UPMC is an imminent deadline of June 30, 2019 which requires him to find another oncologist for future tests.

The UPMC said that the hospital would not provide care after that date unless she bought an insurance plan that she would accept. She is currently using her husband's plan under Highmark.

UPMC has not responded to a request for comment for this story.

Although the chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments at Eckert have been completed, she is facing the reality of the return of cancer.

"In the first two or three years after treatment, there is a 85% chance that the drug will come back," she said, referring to her oncologist, Dr. Alexander Olawaiye.

She said that she trusted Dr. Olawaiye – who was not immediately available for comment – because he had told her that he had studied her form of cancer.

"That's what officially sealed the contract for us," said Eckert. "He was the only oncologist who did research and studies to find out more about it. It made me feel so much more comfortable. "

The potentially fatal news of having cancer and running the risk of seeing him come back and not being able to see his UPMC oncologist will frustrate Eckert.

"It's almost as if (UPMC) did not realize how many lives were in her hands, she just threw them away," she said.

The risk of cancer recurrence is also scary.

"I thought I was going to die," she said, remembering feelings when the diagnosis was still fresh.

But with the support of her family and a deep faith in God, fear quickly turned to a struggle for life mission, she said.

"I realized that there was more life in front of me," Eckert said.

Eckert said that she had discovered the existence of the split between UPMC and Highmark around the time she and her husband got married in August 2017.

Since then, she has told her story to everyone who wanted to listen to it, including at the Pittsburgh City Council last June, when she decided to approve UPMC plans for the hospital expansion. UPMC Mercy at $ 400 million.

The Council approved project 7-2. This decision, however, elicited opposition from people who asked the hospital to allow employees to unionize, increase their salaries and accept patients with or without insurance. Women councilors Darlene Harris of Spring Hill and Deb Gross of Highland Park disagreed.

Eckert was part of the camp of people who argued that the hospital should accept patients with or without insurance.

"I was not trying to stop them from building," she said. "I hoped that my story could help (UPMC) to see that there are many people who will be in the same situation as me."

Eckert attended a press conference Thursday in Pittsburgh organized by Attorney General Josh Shapiro , where she was able to share part of her story again.

Shapiro filed a 73-page lawsuit accusing the UPMC of violating its obligations as a public charity. He also asked a state court to force the UPMC to accept off-network patients at affordable rates.

Highmark agreed to work under the terms of Shapiro's plan.

UPMC said competition in the health sector was beneficial for customers. He says businesses and consumers have had "plenty of time to prepare for the end of the UPMC-Highmark relationship in western Pennsylvania".

The five-year consent decree was passed in 2014. When it expires on June 30, Eckert will have to find another oncologist.

She and her husband, who work as a union organizer with Service Employees International Union, considered subscribing to a secondary insurance plan with UPMC that would allow her to continue to see Dr. Olawaiye.

"There is no way we can afford to pay for this secondary insurance to see these doctors," Eckert said.

She said that she had not yet called other oncologists because she was scared.

"What if they did not know as much about uterine carcinosarcoma?" Eckert said. "I will have to entrust my life and my life to someone else who should develop a plan when he comes back. It's really scary. "

Eckert's advocacy with UPMC is simple.

"I hope UPMC will sit down legitimately, review and read Sharpiro's request for the consent decree and be just and accept it. Accept his offer and let the consent decree last forever for those who are already part of it. "

Dillon Carr is a writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, dcarr@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.