Liver Cancer Survivor

Kelly - Liver Cancer Survivor

My name is Kelly and I'm 44 years old, married with three daughters and, as of July, 2014, a new granddaughter. I live in Billings, Mont., and after having a service business for many years, I now provide online technical assistance to people wanting to diagnose and repair their own appliances. I am a ham radio operator and able to incorporate my hobby into my day working from home.

I was diagnosed with an initially unknown type of cancer on the 12th of December, 2014. I was in the hospital in Billings for norovirus and it was totally by accident that during a scan of my lungs, a tumor was found on my liver. I was quarantined because of the virus and visitors had to go through a long precautionary process to even enter the room.

Aside from phone calls, the first few days following the news of this tumor were spent isolated from friends and family. That was probably the hardest part, and then the type of tumor couldn't be immediately identified because of its position in my liver. It was hard not to know.

Initially, my wife and a pastor from the hospital did come to offer comfort but were discouraged from returning due to the contagious virus. I was especially concerned about my wife because we had the new granddaughter at home. After a week in the hospital, I was discharged with a referral to Virginia Mason because they were a leading hospital in the type of liver surgery I needed.

I was surprised when I was promptly contacted by the Virginia Mason patient care coordinator with whom I talked at length about what I might expect in the coming weeks. I opted to wait until after Christmas to do anything so I was able to spend the holiday with my family and the new baby.

Christmas was very special, almost bittersweet, not knowing what the outcome of my cancer might be. When I reached Seattle in early January, I met with several doctors. The course of treatment would include a procedure to see if the tumor was isolated in the liver or if it had spread. There would be lots of scans, blood work and tests.

Fortunately, the tumor did not appear to be outside my liver at all and I had a portal vein embolization, a procedure to stimulate growth of the healthy part of my liver. With this and every procedure I had, everything was well explained and all my questions answered. I was finally learning what was going on inside of me and I so appreciated that!

After a very tense month of waiting and a few more tests back home, I was notified that my procedure had been successful and my liver had grown to a size that would allow resection of the tumor … it was go time! On Feb. 5, 2015, I met with the surgeon to go over the operation one last time. He explained, in great detail (with pictures even!), exactly what he would do. I had some very odd questions for him but he graciously answered every single one of them.

The morning of Feb. 6, I was prepped for my operation and we were underway. After a very long surgery (9+ hours), the tumor was successfully removed and my recovery process would now begin. Aside from the surgery, of course, the most amazing part of my stay was the extraordinary pain control. My pain was managed with an epidural that was very effective and I was not kept in a zombie-like state with pain medications.

I soon felt great and was up and walking the day after the surgery! My hospital stay was six days but I opted to stay in Seattle for a few extra days until my follow-up appointment. Everything looked good.

Since returning home I've had several more tests and scans, just to be sure nothing is hiding anywhere. So far, so good. A couple years of quarterly scans will be in my future but they are very tolerable.

The people that I met while at Virginia Mason were amazing. There were so many involved in my care, I wish I could name them all. I will always be grateful for my extraordinary surgeon, who was not just a good doctor, but also a really great person. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for him and can easily attribute my survival to his skill and dedication to his profession.

The patient care coordinator was also an integral part of this whole process. He was the first person I talked with and was the go-to-guy when I had any questions. I appreciated his efforts to keep me informed and on time to all of my appointments!

The nurses and other caregivers were also amazing and I am so grateful for their care. They went way above and beyond what would be expected and made sure I had everything I needed to be comfortable, the little things that are often overlooked, like lip balm, a fan, etc. One of my caregivers always took a minute to talk to me and made me feel that she cared about me, no matter how busy she was. That meant a lot being so far from home! One of the greatest things about coming through this is being more thankful for the moments you have to spend in each day, enjoying the little things that tend to get overlooked and not spending so much time and energy on the less important things. Sure, there are bad days, but if you look back and think, “Look what I have survived!” it puts things into perspective!

After my diagnosis, I was humbled by the number of people who came forward with words of encouragement, financial gifts and offerings of support and prayer. I was also saddened by a few that I really thought I could count on that were not interested. I thank God for the miracles, starting with the accidental finding of the tumor, all the way through the oddity of it being entirely encapsulated so that it could be completely removed! My wife, Christina, was a huge part of my recovery and I'm grateful for the way she stepped up to handle the things that I could not.

I look forward to this being part of my past and not something I need to focus on in the coming years. Each day it gets better and each day is a little celebration as I am able to get out of bed and live life! I look forward to many more celebrations!