9-Year Peritoneal Mesothelioma Survivor Beating the Odds

Stories from Survivors

At just 36, doctors diagnosed Raeleen Minchuk Prokopetz of Canada with peritoneal mesothelioma. The shocking diagnosis, one that usually affects men in their late 60s and 70s, immediately put her life on hold.

“How can you just tell someone who’s 36 years old with three kids to go home and get my affairs in order, and that there’s nothing else you can do,” Raeleen told The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com. Raeleen is now 45.

It all started in September 2014 when Raeleen began experiencing abdominal pain. After a CT scan, doctors discovered she had a ruptured ovarian cyst. Two surgeries later, surgeons upgraded her diagnosis to ovarian cancer. Raeleen then dealt with complications after mistakes stemming from those surgeries. 

By mid-October 2014, doctors confirmed Raeleen had stage 3 peritoneal mesothelioma.

“He looked at me and said you have peritoneal mesothelioma, and I literally gasped because that’s asbestos cancer, and I’m going to die,” Raeleen said. Most people with mesothelioma have a life expectancy of 1 to 4 years.

Raeleen’s exposure to asbestos can be traced to her infancy, when she was exposed to asbestos as a baby, she says. Her father renovated her grandparent’s home in 1979. Raeleen says it’s likely she inhaled asbestos fibers while crawling on the floor of the 1950s-era home during the renovation. Homes, buildings and schools built before the 1980s in Canada and the United States likely contain asbestos.

Canada banned asbestos in 2018. The U.S. announced its ban on asbestos in March; however, there’s a 12-year phase-out period until the ban takes full effect.

Taking Charge of Her Mesothelioma Treatment

She began chemotherapy in October 2014. After three rounds of treatment, she had lost 72 lbs. Raeleen became frustrated and canceled her next treatment. She wasn’t happy with the health care she had been receiving. “I ditched the cancer center in my province and went to another province,” Raeleen said.

She also scoured the internet for help. Raeleen found a story on Asbestos.com about Trina Reif, a cancer survivor who had been diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma 14 years before Raeleen. She reached out to her, hoping to find out more about her situation. She also sought hope from someone else on the same cancer journey.

Raeleen scheduled her own appointment and flight, 600 miles away from her home in Saskatchewan, Canada, to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary in the province of Alberta, Canada. She sought help from surgical oncologist and mesothelioma specialist Dr. Walley Temple. It’s a decision that saved her life, she says.

“In just three hours of talking to Dr. Temple, I had more hope than I had ever been given,” Raleen shared. “He halted all chemo. I had to regain weight because the surgery I was about to go through is the second most invasive surgery in the world.”

Raeleen’s surgery was the first time that Temple had performed extensive cytoreductive surgery, which lasted more than 10 hours. It involved the removal of her gallbladder, appendix, ovaries, uterus, colon, diaphragm, 19 feet of small bowel, part of her liver, stomach lining, half of her bladder, and 31 feet of her intestinal tract to wipe out as much of the cancer as possible.

Following those intense surgeries, doctors performed a HIPEC procedure that involved heated chemotherapy drugs used to target any remaining cancer cells. 

Past Mesothelioma Surgery Taking a Toll

For nearly a decade, she hasn’t received any other treatments since her mesothelioma cancer diagnosis. However, she says living all of these years without the organs she lost during her surgery is now taking a toll on her body. 

The pain medication she’s been taking for the past nine years may be causing some issues now. 

“My pain receptors are going off like fireworks. Basically everything hurts because I’ve never experienced any of the pain because of the medications I’ve been on. My body is physically addicted to them, and you can’t get off of them,” Raeleen said. “In the last year and a half, I’ve also been struggling with severe blood pressure drops, very low blood pressure, some minor hearing loss in my right ear, and severe pain issues. More recently, I had caught pneumonia twice and had to be rushed to the hospital.” 

For the first time in her life Raeleen is now also dealing with anxiety attacks. It’s something she says has never been a problem in the past, not even during the nerve-racking beginning of her mesothelioma journey. Despite all of her current issues over the last nine years, Raeleen hasn’t had a reoccurrence of mesothelioma since her diagnosis.

Accomplishing Important Family Goals 

Thanks to Raeleen beating the odds since 2014, she’s thankful that she’s already been able to see things that nine years ago seemed an impossibility, including living years beyond her mesothelioma life expectancy.

“I’m a grandma now. It’s amazing!” Raeleen remarked. “I never thought I’d see my son graduate. But I have, and since then, my granddaughter was born. These are all things that I can put on my short list of what I wanted to accomplish.”

She says her family, and especially her son, Tyce, is her major source of inspiration. Now at 21, Tyce has stuck by her side through all her ups and downs over the past decade.

“My son has always been my positivity…on my side,” she beams. “He’s always given me that encouragement.”

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