On a typical evening at the Minkowsky residence in the northwest valley, the youngest, Brandon, 6, plays games on his iPad while his sister Tiffani, 14, sends Snapchat messages to her friends. Their parents, Matt and Caryn, who have been married for 15 years, sit on the couch and watch TV.
But Matt’s mind is focused on how he can’t provide for his family like he used to, now that he can’t work.
The 42-year-old has stage 2 brain cancer; it was diagnosed in April 2016. Matt learned about his tumor in 2008, but doctors said it wasn’t cancerous, he said. In 2014, he had a seizure, and tests showed a large tumor in the left side of his brain. A six-day hospital visit cost $96,000 and caused the family, who did not have health insurance at the time, to file for bankruptcy.
The tumor got worse, and in April 2016, a doctor told him he had 48 hours to live.
During that time, Caryn invited clergy to pray for Matt, who surpassed 48 hours and was transferred to another hospital once he was stable. Doctors considered the tumor inoperable, saying it was too dangerous, Caryn said. Doctors said they would monitor him until “his day came,” Caryn recalled.
Instead of waiting for that day, Caryn decided to discharge Matt from the hospital, against the recommendation of doctors. She took him to their fourth hospital, St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena campus. She said it was their last option. A neurosurgeon at the hospital agreed that tumor was inoperable but said it was treatable.
Caryn stayed at Matt’s side at the hospital for the three weeks. In the meantime, their 20-year-old daughter, Elizabeth — who lives on her own — and family friends helped watch the couple’s younger children.
Tiffani, who is home-schooled, said she stepped up during the difficult time as well.
“I was nervous and scared,” she said. “It’s my dad, and I was hoping he would live through it. He doesn’t really understand it, but I was there for my brother when he was in the hospital, trying to keep him occupied.”
Meanwhile, Matt began chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Although the tumor shrunk, it was not at the rate that doctors thought that it should. Matt, a taxi driver for six years, had to stop working at this time.
An MRI in October 2016 at a fifth hospital, Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, showed he had a cyst the size of a dime, but it was deemed harmless, Matt said. He received Social Security disability benefits that month and hasn’t worked since.
Matt was doing relatively well until April, Caryn said, when be began acting differently. His body slouched and made uncontrollable movements; he had little energy; and he often was confused and had memory loss.
The dime-sized cyst had grown to the size of a chicken egg, another MRI showed, and was putting pressure on his brain. Matt had surgery in August to drain it, and he said he’s felt better since.
Medicaid has covered hospital bills, but the family has struggled to get by on a disability check and food stamps worth less than $2,500 a month, Caryn said.
“I’ve always been the one to support my family both financially and emotionally,” Matt said, “and for me to slow down so quickly is very stressful. I just can’t stay in the house and do nothing. Frustrating is definitely the best way to describe it.”
Caryn wants to get a job but doesn’t feel comfortable leaving her husband alone at home, yet.
“I have to be 100 percent secure when I go to work that he’s OK to be home by himself,” she said. “I don’t feel in my heart yet that it’s OK. … Once I hear the word ‘remission’ then I will feel that he’s out of the woods.”
Matt is waiting for clearance from his doctors to return to work. He plans to drive for Uber and Lyft, so he can make his own schedule.
Before Matt had health problems, he was an avid bowler. He and his family enjoy going to a North Las Vegas bowling center on weekends as a way to take their mind off of things. The manager, a family friend, let’s them bowl free.
“This has been a rough year, but I’m grateful for my family for supporting me and giving me everything I need,” Matt said.
To keep up with Matt’s condition, Caryn said to add her on Facebook or email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To keep up with Matt Minkowsky’s condition, add Caryn Minkowsky on Facebook or email her at email@example.com.
To donate to the family, visit gofundme.com/f8utvc-matts-fight.