Just three short weeks ago I received news that altered my life. On Friday 8th of September 2017, just 3 days before my 64th birthday I was told that I had liver cancer. To say I was shattered is an understatement. In just one short phone call my hopes and dreams became as nothing. To be honest I thought that’s it. My number is up. My mind was in turmoil as to what I should do. Should I prepare for the worst-case scenario? Was I going to die? Was it going to be a painful death? How much time did I have left? After the initial shock I rang Kit who had not long left for work. She was a godsend and bless her she came straight home. I have never needed her more than I did at that moment. As I waited for my babe I looked back at my medical past.
I also decided to post a record of my illness and treatments past, present and future to my blog to help any of you who may be suffering from the same trouble or maybe even your friends/family that may need this information. It may help. I hope so. Please share this post also. It may help someone too.
I have had high liver readings for many years now. My AST and ALT levels have been very high for well over 10 years. For an explanation of these tests click here. If you have the same high readings then please get your doctor to follow up on it a.s.a.p. It was variously suggested over the years going back as far as the early 2000s that it could be caused by alcohol, a fatty liver, or even the Statins I was taking for cholesterol, but it seems it may have been none of these in my case. There is a possibility that statins may cause liver damage. See this article for example but as always make up your own mind or seek further advice before stopping any prescribed medication.
I used to enjoy a drink or two (lol or more) but over the last 10 years my consumption levels have dropped drastically and I hardly touch alcohol now for months on end. I was even told back then to stop drinking for a month then get re-tested. It made no difference to the results but giving up Statins for a while did seem to make a slight difference, but no further action was taken despite the regular tut-tutting each time I had blood tests over the years.
Just before Christmas 2016 my USA doctor (Dr Pandya) decided to investigate the matter further. Following a battery of blood tests, it turned out that I have Hepatitis C. Shock! Horror! How could I have Hepatitis C? Most of the usual causes did not seem to cover me. I have never used intravenous drugs apart from one time at a party back in 1981 although I guess I could have been unlucky. I have never engaged in gay sex (heterosexual sex is apparently a very small risk) and the most common cause which is through an infected blood transfusion doesn’t apply to me either. Hepatitis C can cause amongst other things, liver damage including cirrhosis leading to liver cancer, so it seems that the Hepatitis C may be the culprit in my case. Note that I say ‘maybe’ as there is not, and there is unlikely to be any definitive proof of any one cause in my case.
A little factoid here. 1 in 30 American baby boomers (born roughly between the mid-1940s – early 1960s), are believed to have Hepatitis C, mostly caught from infected blood transfusions carried out in the early 1980s and further back before transfusion blood products were routinely treated for just that scenario. I believe that happened following the first AIDS cases being spread in the same manner, again in the early 1980s. I have no reason to believe that the figures are any different in the UK either by the way. After the early 1980s blood transfusions were mostly safe. I have had no blood transfusions. Also, most people do not even realise that they have the Hepatitis C until it begins to cause liver damage and that can take many years, so be warned if you were born before the early 1980s get yourself tested as soon as you can. It is just a blood test.
Now I am purely guessing because there is no way of telling, that I could have caught Hepatitis C in 2 ways. I did have a tattoo (another notorious conduit for the Hep C virus) about a year ago in August 2016, albeit in what I believe to be a reputable tattooist in Haverhill, Suffolk, in the UK. Be warned to NEVER EVER have a ‘mate’ tattoo you. I also believe that another likely cause could have been the blood brother ceremonies we carried out back in the late 1970s/early 1980s, usually when pissed late at night with mates. You know the ones if you were there. Cut your hands and swap blood with a mate while swearing a drunken lifelong loyalty to each other. Lots of us did it back then. People probably still do it now. DON’T. But again, all of this is just guesswork and I am never likely to know now.
It can also be passed on from mother to baby. Possible? But unlikely I like to believe in my case. Who knows? But anyway, I have Hepatitis C whether I like it or not.
There followed more blood tests as there is a cure for Hepatitis C but it comes in various genetic types and before they can start you on a drug regimen they must genotype the strain that you have. I had tests in the USA and the UK which both showed only such a small amount of the virus in my blood that they were unable to ascertain which type it was. I was also routinely tested for H.I.V but thankfully that was negative. My treatment for Hep C is currently on hold until after my surgery.
But back to the near present. Back in July this year (2017) I was given another liver ultrasound scan which showed a few signs of something on my liver and so next I was given an M.R.I scan (Magnetic resonance imaging), both at Dublin Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. My doctor called me in and informed me that there were a few suspicious signs on my liver after these tests.
I will add here that M.R.I scans are not as scary as some people make them out to be. I had a needle in my arm as they pump a kind of radioactive dye into you during the test (known as contrast) and you are given headphones, a) to drown out the sound and b) so the nurse can talk to you and give you instructions. My M.R.I scanner was fairly open and not the coffin like structure that some people may lead you to believe. It was also not too noisy, a bit like a washing machine running. I found the whole process not unpleasant at all so don’t be frightened if you need to have one. You can feel the dye entering your bloodstream but again it is not an unpleasant feeling at all. It is reasonably fast and not too uncomfortable. For more info on MRI scanners including pictures click here.
Next were more blood tests looking for tumour markers. I breathed a sigh of relief when the results came back mostly clear. One reading was slightly raised. It should have been 6 or under and mine was 9 although I was assured it was not remarkable and only likely to cause concern if it was, say 400 or so. Another sigh of relief. For more info on these tests click here. I started to plan starting work here and I had already bought a new car to travel to work. But….
My Doc again asked me in and said that there was probably no need to worry but due to the new marks on my liver it would be best to have a liver biopsy just in case. OK I was fine with that and was booked in again to Dublin Methodist after visiting a Dr Toscano (a very pleasant guy), a Hepatologist at Riverside Methodist Hospital, again in Columbus.
I didn’t look forward to it, I must admit as it sounded painful but it actually wasn’t too bad. I was pumped full of sedatives via an IV line and wheeled into the CT scanner room, which is what they use to find the area to biopsy. A kind of grille template is put on your abdomen and then they run the CT scanner (computerised tomography) after pumping contrast dye into you through the IV line. They then draw a small cross on your abdomen where they plan to put the needle in which snips off several samples of your liver. Information on CT scanners can be found here.
The doc will then do his job. The area on your abdomen where he will insert the biopsy needle is numbed so you only feel a slight prick as it goes in and then you hear a few clicks as he takes samples from your liver. Don’t forget that I was sedated so I was pretty much in La-La land and I only felt a slight pain at each click.
Luckily, I had Kit with me as obviously you can’t drive home after the sedatives but after a couple of hours kip I was mostly fine if a little woozy. I was also instructed to take it easy for a few days, i.e. no heavy lifting etc. And that was that I thought. Just get the result back then off to find a job …….but…
The CT scan biopsy was on Friday 1st September and I heard nothing back straight away, so presuming all was well I started applying for jobs. Until the following Friday the 8th September when I got the call at about 4pm from Dr Toscano. It went along the lines of “I’m very sorry to tell you but your biopsy proved positive. You have liver cancer.”
Kit was brilliant. I was shell-shocked after the call but I soon rang her at work and she came straight home to me, bless her. It was probably as big a shock to her as to me. She even took the Monday off as well to be with me. Of course we talked a lot about outcomes and what to do if this happened or that happened but all we could do was wait until we got more news. And so, a very worrying week passed by.
My next appointment was at Ohio State University hospital in downtown Columbus with a Dr Anthony Michaels (another nice guy) on Monday 18th September. We didn’t learn that much other than what we already knew and he simply referred me on to another surgeon in the Transplant Dept. after confirming I would need surgery, although he assured us that I would not be needing a transplant. Later the same day I received a phone call arranging an appointment for yet another CT scan of my chest in case the cancer had spread to my lungs. That was arranged for the next day at a small OSU facility near us at Stoneridge in Dublin. Things seemed to be moving fast.
I am getting used to these scans now and this was an easy one. All over in 20 minutes and back home, no sedatives required. I even got a call from the Doctors office the same day telling me the scan of my lungs was clear. One piece of good news at last. And my last appointment of the week on the Thursday was at my GP’s for Hepatitis A & B vaccinations along with my flu shot.
And on to my last appointment which was again at Ohio State University Hospital with the fantastically named Dr Sylvester Black (another great guy, although for some reason his name always conjures up an image of a cartoon villain akin to Dick Dastardly). This was last Tuesday 26th September in the Transplant Unit. He explained to me what he planned to do.
Now my liver is otherwise healthy, not scarred or cirrhotic and there is a small 3 cm lesion in the left lateral segment which is good news apparently as it means I can have a liver resection. That means they will just cut the cancerous part out. Apparently, I will spend 3-5 days in hospital if all goes well and it will take about 6 weeks to recover. I will also receive some chemotherapy to make sure all traces of the cancer are gone. And now I just have to wait for my surgery date which I am told should be within 4 weeks or 5 weeks max. The actual operation is only expected to last an hour or so and Dr Black told me he will cut a ‘J’ section in my abdomen for this (another scar to add to my Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm one). He will then cut the lesion out and also pull some of my liver out to examine it (visually or by touch? I’m not sure. Maybe both.) to check that there are no further signs of cancer. Marvellous eh? Maybe I can get him to take a picture of that and I can share it to Facebook…lol.
And now for a very strange coincidence. In my very first novel, Love Sex and Time Travel, my heroine Romilly also finds out that she has liver cancer. I have just reread the parts that cover her tests and procedures and they are surprisingly accurate for 2007 which was the year that part of the novel was set and also when it was written. Even the part regarding the MRI and ultrasound biopsy are fairly accurate, great research and a pat on the back to myself. I know that now myself, although I had a CT scan biopsy instead. Very spooky that I should suffer the same medical problems as Romilly. For those of you that have read the book you will know Romilly’s fate. If you haven’t, well you can download Love Sex and Time Travel here as an eBook for only $4.99 or UK equivalent.
And next. My feelings through all of this? Well Kit has been marvellous and believe me this diagnosis has affected her deeply too. Now I am a person that tends to hide my feelings. Stiff upper lip and all that (well I am British old chap… lol) and I tend to put on a brave outer face a lot of the time but as I said earlier my brain has often been in turmoil through all of these past few weeks. Sometimes I think that I should not put my lovely wife through all of this and it fills me with anguish. I must admit I have occasionally in my blacker moments even been tempted to just run or even to end it all but good sense prevails and I will not give in to those feelings.
Despite the Surgeon’s comforting words, I know that lots can still go wrong yet, for example more lesions being found or the cancer returning so I am still very frightened at the prospect of the upcoming operation, it’s after-effects and the future after the operation. But I will be strong. I have to be for the people that love and need me. I have no belief in any so-called gods or spirits but I have to have faith in the skill of the doctors and I have faith in the love of my wife and the love I have for her. I also believe in karma and what will be, will no doubt be.
So until my next appointment I will say cheerio and stay In good health. And please message me if you have any questions.
Stan R – October 6th 2017.
© 2017 Stan M Rogers. All rights reserved.