Milwaukee Police sergeant begins research fund while fighting rare abdominal cancer
Feb. 21, 2013 College News - “What did you wish for, Bella?” Sebastian Raclaw asked his daughter as her coin broke the water’s surface and came to rest on the bottom of the wishing well. Just a few months earlier, the 35-year-old Milwaukee Police sergeant had been diagnosed with stage 4 abdominal cancer, initially deemed incurable. As he sat with his wife and two young children in the warmth and whimsy of Disney World, Raclaw thought about the difficult surgical procedure that awaited him upon their return from vacation and the glimmer of hope it offered.
His 4-year-old turned to him. “For my daddy not to go to the hospital anymore,” she said.
Understanding how, in the midst of profound personal crisis, Raclaw was inspired to think of helping others is to better know the man and how grateful he was that he found partners at Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin who were willing and able to help him in his time of greatest need. The Sebastian Raclaw Abdominal Cancer Research Fund, which he established last year at the Medical College, is his way of giving hope to people facing the same future as he did only a year ago.
Raclaw is young, healthy and active, so although the lower abdominal pain he had been feeling was unexpected, he had no reason to think it serious. When it persisted, he underwent testing that inexplicably suggested he had cirrhosis of the liver. Yet further tests indicated he was cured. Scans and a biopsy yielded inconsistent results, but in February 2012, he received a grave diagnosis.
A procedure to remove Raclaw’s appendix and explore the source of his pain revealed cancerous tumors and fluid. He had pseudomyxoma peritonei, a rare cancer of the abdominal cavity, and there was little that could be done. An advanced procedure called HIPEC (hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy) had benefited some patients with his cancer, but Raclaw would probably have to travel to Washington, D.C., to receive it.
Upon hearing this news, Raclaw took control of learning more about the disease and researching options. Astonishingly, his efforts led him to another expert in the use of HIPEC who practiced just minutes away: Kiran Turaga, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Surgical Oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
His consultation with Dr. Turaga was promising. Raclaw was paired with a buddy who previously had the HIPEC procedure; he learned the details, and he felt confident that Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin was the right place. “Dr. Turaga told me: ‘You worry about your family, and I’ll worry about your cancer,’” he said.
So Raclaw prepared by maintaining his health so he would be strong enough for the highly invasive procedure. But he also had other work in mind that involved rallying support, not for himself, but for this cause. His fellow police officers were already beginning to direct proceeds from events to help Raclaw, who decided to use the opportunity to create the Sebastian Raclaw Abdominal Cancer Research Fund and grow it with the support of the Milwaukee Police Supervisors’ Organization (MPSO) and the Milwaukee Police Endurance Club.
“My brothers and sisters in blue mobilized to help the family, and we wanted to do something meaningful,” Raclaw said. “A large purpose was awareness. There wasn’t a fund in the Midwest related to this illness. We believed this was so important to do for the educational aspects. Because of the prolonged nature of being diagnosed, there is a need to inform doctors that this is out there. We also hope it will create a network to provide a level of hope to other patients.”
Dr. Turaga performed the HIPEC procedure in July. The 11-hour operation comprised open surgical removal of more than 200 tumors and affected tissue, followed by the circulation of a chemotherapy solution throughout Raclaw’s abdominal cavity. The solution is heated, which enhances the cancer-killing effect and aids in tissue penetration, and the process puts the chemotherapy agent in direct contact with the cancer cells, many of which cannot be seen.
“HIPEC combines surgery and chemotherapy, and is one of several novel techniques known as regional cancer therapies,” Dr. Turaga said. “Given his age, health and cancer type, Sebastian was a great candidate for this procedure. Beyond that, he has been equally tenacious in his recovery and his charity, and I am grateful for both.”
While Raclaw recovered, the MPSO held its annual golf outing in early September and raised $2,500 for the Fund. By the end of September, Raclaw was strong enough to participate in the first Sebastian Raclaw Abdominal Cancer Research Run, which drew 500 people to the Milwaukee Mile. Held in partnership with the Milwaukee Police Endurance Club, the event raised $10,000 for research at the Medical College.
“I knew I had a strong support base in this community, and the next step after education and awareness is research,” Raclaw said. “I hope that in my lifetime a cure will be found. From my standpoint as a parent, it is unknown if this is hereditary, and God forbid if I sat idle and did nothing when it could affect my children or my children’s children. I can’t pick up a microscope, but I could pick up a checkbook and get this fund going.”
Today, Raclaw has a positive outlook. A cancerous mucous remains on his liver and pelvic area, but testing has yet to reveal any new cell growth, so remission is a real possibility. The nature of the disease will require regular monitoring, but all things considered, there is reason to believe that wishes can come true.
To give: To support the Sebastian Raclaw Abdominal Cancer Research Fund, contact Meg Bilicki at email@example.com or (414) 805-5731.
Sebastian Raclaw with his wife, Angela, and their children, Isabella and Noah.
Sgt. Raclaw runs in the first Sebastian Raclaw Abdominal Cancer Research Run at Wisconsin State Fair on Sept. 29, 2012, just two months after advanced cancer surgery at Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin.