Every year, peritoneal mesothelioma survivor Trina West-Clark takes a trip to the casino to have a few cocktails with friends and celebrate another year of living cancer-free.
To celebrate 16 years of mesothelioma remission, she will travel to Canada and meet fellow peritoneal mesothelioma survivor Raeleen Minchuk and Cheryl Ewoldt, who lost her husband, Barry, to the aggressive cancer.
“We’ve never met before, but we decided to meet up there and celebrate together,” West-Clark told Asbestos.com. “I’m so excited to do that.”
West-Clark and Minchuk were diagnosed on the same day, but 13 years apart. Minchuk found solace in West-Clark’s survivor story and plans to commemorate her own three-year survival mark with her inspiration.
They are still ironing out details of the trip, but West-Clark hopes to plan it around their shared cancer anniversary on September 11.
“We’re throwing around dates, but I’m trying to talk Raeleen into doing the 9th to the 12th so I can be with her on the 11th,” she said.
It’s been more than a year since West-Clark’s last CT scan. She periodically experiences some pain and stomach issues but says life is good.
“I can’t believe it’s been 16 years. I honestly can’t,” she said. “I’m just loving life. No complaints whatsoever.”
And as fun as having cocktails with friends at a casino can be, West-Clark knows her 16th anniversary will be special because it will be spent with others affected by peritoneal mesothelioma — a rare cancer diagnosed in approximately 500 people in the U.S. each year.
“They are the only people that can actually relate to where you have been,” she said. “It’s pretty emotional — I’m not going to lie — because [Minchuk] looks up to me so much. It’s very emotional to know that I’m finally going to meet her.”
West-Clark admitted it will be tough meeting Ewoldt, the third member of the trip.
Peritoneal mesothelioma took the life of Ewoldt’s husband at age 55. Cheryl was his caregiver until he entered hospice care.
“I have the upmost respect for any caregiver,” West-Clark said. “My caregiver saved my life.”
West-Clark’s caregiver was Victor Elia. They dated for 18 years and have two children together.
“He is the one that actually pushed me through it all,” she said. “When I was standing in the shower and started losing all my hair, he was the one that picked it up off the shower floor and said, ‘It’s okay.’ He told me I was sexy, and I told him ‘You’re crazy.’ You have to have a caregiver that’s actually going to push you to survive in a situation such as that. Otherwise, you’re just going to lie there and die.”
Recently, West-Clark has seen several friends lose their battle with mesothelioma. Too often, survivors give up hope.
The role of a caregiver can be overwhelming, but it’s essential to a patient’s quality of life. Caregivers with a personal connection to patients can be even more overwhelming, but, like Elia, these people can make an invaluable difference in a mesothelioma survivor’s cancer journey.
“I thank him every single time I talk to him and see him,” West-Clark said. “I actually think he had a lot to do with all of it.”
Connect with survivors like Trina and Raeleen in our mesothelioma support group.
Those around West-Clark tell her she is the strongest person they’ve ever met. No matter what happens, she finds a way to bring up others.
“You will work your way through what you have to deal with and get that next person where you are. That’s what they say to me — that I am so strong,” she said. “What I say to that is that I’m as strong as cement, but some days, that cement is about to crumble.”
However, she always seems to find a way to push through and put the needs of others ahead of her own.
“My son tells me there’s a purpose that was left for me that has allowed me to survive as long as I have, and that purpose is to be the caregiver and take care of everyone else,” she said.
She saved a friend who suffered a heart attack in front of her and cared for him during his recovery. She later nursed another friend back to health after he underwent open-heart surgery.
In December, West-Clark found out her sister needed a heart transplant. She dropped everything and went to Florida to care for her.
West-Clark recently looked after two grandkids as her daughter recovered from surgery.
Taking care of loved ones helps keep her mind off her own struggles. She still thinks of herself as a cancer survivor and occasionally fears a recurrence, but not as much as she used to.
“In the first five years, you’re so fearful,” she said. “After that, you have to stay positive. You have to tell yourself that you’re not going to go backwards after the good Lord let you go this far. I want to go forward. Life is good.”
It’s a message she hopes instills in Minchuk, who is still in the early stages of fearing the unknown.
West-Clark lives by the philosophy of “body in motion.” She still tours the country in her fiance’s 18-wheeler during the winter months.
Summers are spent in Gladwin, Michigan, on Secord Lake. She bought a new pontoon boat and spends as much time on the water with family and friends.
She recently celebrated her third grandchild — her son’s first child. West-Clark’s daughter lives nearby and serves as her support system when she needs a helping hand or a listening ear.
When she’s not helping others, West-Clark is likely on the lake, building jigsaw puzzles or landscaping her yard.
“Life has become all about my grandkids,” she said. “Traveling and family is my thing. I don’t dwell on [the cancer], I just live every moment.”