NEW YORK CITY, NY (WAVY) - The "Road to Recovery" has been bumpy for Chesapeake's Jonathan Derrick. He is fighting cancer and had a potentially life-saving surgery in New York last week after battling his health insurance company for coverage.
Most people travel to New York City on vacation, but for the Derricks, it was all business.
"We are hear for one reason and one reason only and that's just to get me better," said Derrick.
"It has been a long road," added Derrick's wife Kelli. "I think we've gotten things done just in the nick of time."
The long road from Chesapeake to the "Big Apple" began in December 2012 when Jonathan was diagnosed with rectal cancer. Then it moved into his liver.
WAVY.com first met Jonathan in June. At the time, the 35-year-old didn't have much fight left in him. After months of chemo and radiation, it seemed nothing was working. The cancer was only getting worse. His family's life was turned upside down.
"He was bathing the kids, reading them books and helping them with homework," Kelli said. "You just never know how much somebody means until something like this happens. I just want him back to be there for his boys."
Jonathan's doctor suggested an innovative procedure called "hepatic arterial infusion." The process was researched and developed by doctors at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and is only available in handful of hospitals in the country. The procedure would first remove the tumor in Derrick's rectum and then deliver chemo directly to his liver.
"It could have never been done anywhere else, but here," Kelli added.
But before he could get to the hustle and bustle of the big city, Derrick needed to get past Optima Health, his insurance provider. At first Optima refused to pay for the surgery at Sloan-Kettering, but a week after WAVY.com first profiled Jonathan's story, the insurance company had a change of heart and decided to cover the expenses in New York after all.
"It feels like it's been years," Jonathan added. "It is a long time coming."
The morning before the surgery, WAVY.com caught up with Derricks just outside Sloan-Kettering.
"I'm ready to get it done, but I'm scared and nervous at the same time," Jonathan said. "I'm definitely ready to get it started."
360 miles from home and the couple were just steps away from Jonathan's possible life-changing moment.
"I told [Kelli] they can just go ahead and put me asleep now," Jonathan added. "Knock me out. Just get me in there and get it done."
The team of doctors started prepping Jonathan at noon last Tuesday. He went under the knife four hours later.
"It was almost like a movie when two hours would go by and four hours would go by and six hours would go by," Kelli said, recalling what it was like in the waiting room. "It ended up being about 10 hours."
And the doctor told the Derricks the surgery was not easy. The tumor was surrounded by an infection -- one wrong move and it could have been disastrous. But the doctors were able to get the tumor out, and will begin chemo injections into Jonathan's liver next week.
By the Thursday after the surgery, Jonathan was able to spend the night in a hotel room instead of a hospital room. The doctors said there were no signs of cancer in any of the places targeted by the surgery.
"Anything can happen now, and we understand that," Kelli said. "[The doctors] say in four to six months they are going to reassess him and see if his liver spots have diminished to where they can go in and take those out."
Considering everything, the surgery in New York has been a victory for the Derricks, but the road to recovery is far from over.
"We need this to happen, and we need that to happen and we need a little bit of luck," Kelli added.
Jonathan is far from cancer free. The last seven months have taken his family on a dark journey, but everyone believes there are brighter days ahead.
"It's going to hopefully be a life changer within the next couple weeks when I start feeling better," Jonathan said.
Jonathan will soon have anther surgery to start the chemo process in his liver. He will be in New York for at least another month. Then, he will come home, but have to make trips back to Sloan-Kettering every month.
After Optima Health denied the Derricks' claim, the couple filed an appeal. The process took a couple days, but Optima's decision was overturned. It was a process the Derricks didn't know was even available. If you have any questions about Optima's appeal process just click this link: Optima Health appeal process.
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