Coping with Liver Cancer

A cancer diagnosis can remind you to treasure life.

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Being told you have a life-threatening disease allows you to face your fears head-on and take chances you might not otherwise take.

— Margaret Brandt

From the moment I had a partial hysterectomy in 2010, I started having unexplained bouts of nausea. My surgeon and even my primary care physician chalked it up to everything from the difficult 6-hour surgery I had just had to anxiety over a move I’d recently made from Connecticut to North Carolina. But after 8 months went by and I still had no relief, I knew something was wrong and insisted that my doctor do an ultrasound, which picked up a mass in my liver.

After a biopsy of the tumor was taken, I nervously awaited the results. As days went by with no call from the doctor I thought, “No news is good news.” But after several calls to the doctor went unanswered, I decided to take control of the situation and went to the medical records department of the hospital and asked for a copy of my biopsy report.

Shocking News

That’s how I found out that I had stage I liver cancer. The news couldn’t have been more shocking. I don’t have the typical risk factors for the disease. I never drink or smoke, I don’t do drugs, I’ve never had hepatitis, and there’s no history of liver disease in my family. There was nothing to explain why I would have this cancer.

Fortunately, the cancer was confined to one part of my liver. After removal of half my liver, my oncologist said that the tissue margins were clear of any errant malignant cells and that I didn’t need adjuvant chemotherapy or radiation therapy. I have follow-up visits with my oncologist every 3 months, and now, nearly 1½ years later, I’m thrilled to say that I’m still in remission.

That said, having liver cancer has certainly upended my life—in ways both bad and good. I was laid off from my position as a radiology coordinator at a local hospital after I became ill. The reason given was that I had exceeded my allotted medical-related disability leave. But I’m convinced that the real reason is that no one expected me to live longer than 6 months after my diagnosis.

The experience of having cancer has made me reevaluate my career choice, and I’m now in graduate school working on a master’s degree in education. It also gave me the courage to make the decision to remarry after promising myself that I would never take that step again. Being told you have a life-threatening disease allows you to face your fears head-on and take chances you might not otherwise take.

Celebrating Life

I lost a 3-year-old son in 1992 to Hunter syndrome, and that tragedy taught me the importance of not taking anything for granted and to treasure life. But I think I lost that feeling over the years. I forgot to appreciate that every day is a gift. My cancer diagnosis has reminded me of that fact.

I was just 49 when I was diagnosed with liver cancer. I used to think that if I ever got cancer it would be breast or ovarian. The possibility of getting liver cancer never crossed my mind.

I know how lucky I am. My oncologist said he was amazed that the cancer was confined to a small area of my liver and had not spread to other organs. His positive and upbeat attitude throughout my ordeal has helped me cope with the enormity of being a cancer survivor. I know that the positive outcome I’ve had is not the usual one for a deadly cancer such as mine. Now I look at life every day as a precious gift. And I never take anything for granted. ■

Margaret Brandt lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.