Surviving Liver Cancer … so far

By on July 1, 2016

For the last year or so I’d been losing weight without trying (not something that my family does) and also losing some strength (not ideal when you’re pushing heavy equipment around on a farm). My only symptoms, otherwise I felt fine. I thought it was the Vitamin D deficiency that my foot doctor found a year ago when treating some stress fractures in my left foot. That deficiency can cause weight loss and muscle loss. In February I went to my family practice doctor, and he said that they hadn’t pulled any blood work for me for awhile and ordered some tests. Showed some slightly elevated liver enzymes, so he said I should see my G.I. guy. Well, he ordered some blood work and an MRI and a CAT scan.

Those scans showed a growth on my liver almost the size of a tennis ball, right next to my gall bladder, but on the outside of my liver (lucky there). Funny (I think it’s funny, anyway), there was one blood test at the lab that they said insurance would not pay for because it didn’t match the diagnoses that my local G.I. doctor put on the order. They wanted me to pay for it out of pocket, so I did ($94, they’re billing me). It’s called Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP). Out of all the blood work, only one test came back abnormal. You guessed it:  AFP. Normal is 0 – 8.3 for that lab, and mine came back 623. A mite high. LOL. That meant the growth on my liver was cancer — not so LOL. My G.I. guy said I should go to Georgetown (a horrendous drive into D.C.), but I asked if there was anywhere else besides driving into D.C., and he said University of Virginia Medical Center (UVA) in Charlottesville  (a pleasant 2-hour drive from our home, with minimal traffic).

I saw a liver specialist and a liver surgeon at UVA. The surgeon thought that I would need a liver transplant (OMG!) because he was sure that my liver was cirrhotic. He ordered a portal hypertension test (catheter from my neck through the heart to the liver). Bad readings would have been over 10. I surprised him by having four different (place) readings of 2,3,4, and 6. I attribute that to my clean lifestyle, which has always been no nicotine, no alcohol => so no transplant needed! Whew!

The surgeon also said that the tendency to develop liver cancer came from the fact that I had ulcerative colitis (UC) when I was 21 and my liver was affected. Even though I had my colon out in 1985, the UC apparently continued to hurt me all these years. UC, the gift that keeps on giving. Who knew? I knew Crohn’s was forever, but not UC.

Anyway, on April 29 the surgeon removed all of the tumor (pathology: hepatocellular carcinoma or HCC) and removed my gallbladder (which had gallstones). They went into my abdomen via part of the same incision that was made in 1985, so I have a more recent 8”-9” scar on my abdomen.

I had lost 20 pounds in the year before the operation; then I lost another 15 pounds in the hospital (190  => 155). Overall, quite an ordeal.  Recovery will take a long time.

I have to go back to UVA periodically for blood work and MRI and CAT because there is a 50-50 chance the cancer will recur within the first two years. So I’ll be getting scans every 3 – 6 months for a long, long time.

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