Saskatchewan

Woman diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer warning people about renovating homes

Raeleen Minchuk Prokopetz was only 11 or 12 months old when she was exposed to asbestos while her father was renovating her grandparents’ house. She was diagnosed with stage four mesothelioma 35 years later.

Raeleen Minchuk Prokopetz speaking about her experience as part of WorkSafe Saskatchewan campaign

WorkSafe Saskatchewan says asbestos fibres are invisible, so people can inhale them without even knowing it. Common building materials containing asbestos include plaster, pipe insulation, floor tiles, vinyl sheet flooring, popcorn ceiling and blown-in insulation. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Raeleen Minchuk Prokopetz was only 11 or 12 months old when she was exposed to asbestos while her father was renovating her grandparents' house.

She was diagnosed with stage four mesothelioma 35 years later.

"It was a shell shocker for me because I knew what asbestos was because my father worked in so many different things from mechanics to auto body to welding to fixing everything," Minchuk Prokopetz said.

Now she's speaking out about her own experience as part of a WorkSafe Saskatchewan campaign that is raising awareness about the risks of renovating homes built before 1990.

"Back in the late '70s, there was no concern for asbestos," she told Saskatoon Morning.

Rare form of mesothelioma

The cancer was only discovered when she underwent surgery for ovarian cysts.

"I was just barely coming out of the anesthetic…. [The doctor] looked at me and my husband at the time and said, 'You are riddled full of cancer,' and your natural reaction is just to cry."

Minchuk Prokopetz was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in the abdomen, which is rare compared to the mesothelioma in the lungs. 

She was diagnosed in September 2014 and underwent surgery in February 2015.

"They gave me two months to a year to live because I was pretty much end-stage of the disease."

She's been in remission for four and a half years but she's now having some complications with her lungs.

Leading cause of work-related deaths

According to WorkSafe Saskatchewan, asbestos-related diseases are the leading cause of work-related deaths in Saskatchewan.

Minchuk Prokopetz said people need to know that asbestos isn't a thing of the past. 

"They need to know that this is something very serious not to take on yourself and think, I won't get sick," she said. "It just takes one fibre it doesn't take multiple exposure to asbestos to get sick. So I would be reaching out and having my house tested before starting renovations."

WorkSafe Saskatchewan said if you're renovating an older home, you should hire a professional abatement team to identify and remove asbestos before you start.

About the Author

Ashleigh Mattern is a web writer, reporter, and copy editor with CBC Saskatoon and CBC Saskatchewan, and an associate producer with Saskatoon Morning. She has been working as a journalist since 2007 and joined CBC in 2017. Email: ashleigh.mattern@cbc.ca.

With files from Saskatoon Morning

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