Hep B Blog

Beating the Odds: A Liver Cancer Survivor’s Story

Liver cancer, caused by hepatitis B and C, is on the rise in the U.S. and it is also the second deadliest. Fewer than 15 percent of patients with liver cancer will survive five years after their diagnosis. It is the third-leading cause of cancer deaths among Asian-Americans and the eighth-leading cause of cancer deaths among Caucasian-Americans.

Despite this bleak outlook, there are people with liver cancer who are beating the odds and surviving. The medical community is also working hard to develop new drugs and effective strategies to treat liver cancer. Here is one survivor’s story.

By Frank Gardea

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In late 2008, during routine testing before surgery, I found out I had hepatitis C and liver cirrhosis. It was a double whammy because having both viral hepatitis and cirrhosis put me at high risk for liver cancer.

Then the abdominal pain started. I suffered for almost three years and was in and out of the emergency department. They could not pinpoint the cause of the pain. When they finally diagnosed my liver cancer, the tumor was over 8 cm in size.

I was of course angry. Why didn’t they catch my cancer earlier? I was hospitalized for over a week and then referred to the oncology department. That’s when they told me, “You have three months to live.”

I was not a candidate for a liver transplant and one of the doctors didn’t even want to give me a referral to a hepatologist because she thought I was too far gone.  I went home and binge-watched YouTube videos on liver cancer. I found out that far too often, by the time liver cancer is diagnosed, it’s too late.

Another doctor later referred me to UCLA, one of the top liver cancer centers in the country. At my first appointment at the liver cancer center, I saw Dr. Richard Finn, a leading liver cancer expert, who was part of a team of health care professionals taking care of me. They never once said I was beyond hope.

The following week, the tumor burst and I was admitted to the liver cancer center. I realized I was dying. They did a procedure called TACE that saved my life. I was put on an oral targeted therapy, which, in combination with the TACE, caused the tumor to shrink.

Fulltime Job

Life definitely has changed for me. I had a small company that I had to pretty much shut down. I fell behind on my mortgages but was able to work out agreements to get them modified. Being a patient now became my fulltime job.

I spent most of my time negotiating insurance plans, figuring out medical costs, and going for medical visits. My friends put me on their private insurance plan for two years, and then I got my own insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Without that insurance, I would not have been able to survive.

Staying Positive

It’s hard to stay positive when you know you have a tumor inside you that is killing you. It’s not just financially, but also emotionally draining. I go for mental health therapy because I get so depressed. Being sick, not being as physically active as I want, and coping with the side effects of the drugs can get overwhelming.

Be Your Own Advocate!

The most important thing I have learned is that I have to educate myself about my disease and be prepared when talking with my doctor. I had to become my own advocate, asking questions and being persistent about getting the care I need.

I am not out of the woods yet, but I have a lot to be thankful for. I have now lived three years longer than expected, thanks to my care team. They say I am one of their success stories!

I have joined a cancer support group so I can share my experience. Maybe I can help somebody.

For more information about liver cancer, visit our Liver CancerConnect website getting screened for liver cancer when you have hepatitis B, click here.

Comments on this blog are closed. If you have questions about hepatitis B or this blog post, please email info@hepb.org or call 215-489-4900.

9 thoughts on “Beating the Odds: A Liver Cancer Survivor’s Story”

  1. Hello Dr. there is a certain substance that is allegedly being used by certain people to poison other people.such people add small amount of the powdery substance to the food of the intended person who upon consumption may vomit and later develop liver complication.it has been observed that almost all the victims test positive for hepatitis B and over 90 percent develop liver cancer.please am seeking scientific explanation from you.

    1. Hello: There are many toxic compounds that harm the liver and increase the risk of liver cancer. One of the most common is aflatoxin. Aflatoxins are fungi produced by molds that grow in wet grain, fruit and other agricultural products including corn, rice, wheat and peanuts. They can cause liver cancer, especially when eaten by people already infected with hepatitis B.

  2. I am a man 38 years
    on 10th February 2016 i got these lab results
    Liver Function Tests
    Total Bilirubin 0.30 mg/dL 0 – 1.2
    Direct Bilirubin 0.10 mg/dL 0 – 0.3
    Indirect Bilirubin 0.20 mg/dL 0 – 0.9
    SGPT (ALT) 27 U/L 0 – 49
    SGOT (AST) 27 U/L 0 – 34
    Kidney Function Tests
    Serum Creatinine 0.9 mg/dL 0.7 – 1.3
    Blood Urea 22 mg/dL 10 – 45
    Serum Uric Acid 4.60 mg/dL 3.0 – 7.0
    Hepatitis Markers
    Hepatitis B surface antigen Positive
    Hepatitis B e antigen Negative
    Hepatitis B e antibody Positive
    HBV DNA Quantitative by (TaqMan) 32648 IumL < 20
    FibroScan with 7.4 KPA F2

    and i went to liver specialist yesterday and he advice me with
    check liver biopsy to talk the correct decision for treatment "for ever" or not "just monitor the liver "
    3 March i get Live pathology report
    liver Pathology report

    Length of the core : 2 CM
    Number of portal tracts : 9
    Degree on interface hepatitis : Mild
    Degree lobular necrosis : Mild
    Degree of portal inflammation : Mild
    Stage of fibrosis : Mild
    Degree steatosis : No
    presence of cirrhosis : –
    Presence of dysplasia : –
    Presence of malignancy : –

    Mild chronic Hepatotos B
    Mild Fibrosous portal expansion without septa
    No Steatosis
    ISHAK Score : 4/18 Stage 1/6
    Metavir score : A1,F1

    I went to my doctor and his device to monitor every six months with these alt,ast,pcr,alfa fetoprotien and HBsag
    and i asked you before and your reply matched with my Liver sprcialist
    On 8th Mar 2016 i did absag is positive and hbs AB negative with 2 miu/ml whats are
    now I am terrible from my Liver Damage and every day i thinking more about my
    HBV infections

    24 March i did thes checks
    Hepatitis B surface antigen Positive
    Hepatitis B surface antibody (titre) Negative <3.10 mIU/mL 0.0 – 9.9
    SGPT (ALT) 19 U/L 0 – 49
    SGOT (AST) 17 U/L 0 – 34

    from 1 March i got have a Healthy lifestye
    what does these checks means? my immune system is trying to fight the infection ?

    1. Hello: It’s possible your healthy lifestyle is paying off. Your SGPT level of 19 is excellent and indicates your liver is healthy. If your viral load is low or undetectable, it appears there is no reason for treatment. Follow your doctor’s advice and get monitored regularly, and continue to eat healthy foods and avoid alcohol and cigarettes. Good luck.

      1. Thanks for your fast reply .
        1- what are the Best on 10th February 2016 my HbsAB=2 IU/ML and on 24th April 2016 <3.10 IU/ML
        2-My viral load is 32648 IU/ML on 8th February but now i did check my viral load i will check after six months from the preview check you advice my check it now
        3- what about my immune system now ?

  3. Thanks for your fast reply .
    1- what are the Best on 10th February 2016 my HbsAB=2 IU/ML and on 24th April 2016 <3.10 IU/ML
    2-My viral load is 32648 IU/ML on 8th February but now i did check my viral load i will check after six months from the previous check your advice my check it now
    3- what about my immune system now ?

    1. Hello: Here are my answers:
      1. In February you hepatitis B surface antibody level was 2 IU/mL, and in April it was less than 3.1 IU/mL. Was the same lab used for both tests? In one test, the lab measured the exact amount of surface antibodies, the other only gave an indication that your antibody count was under 3.1, as if this lab measured down to the 3.1 IU/mL level.
      2. Check your viral load at your next check up.
      3. The goal is to aim for healthy ALT/SGPT levels and a low viral load. Keep eating healthy food and avoiding cigarettes and alcohol.
      Thank you.

  4. My mother is 49 years she was diagnosed this month and the doctor impression was as below
    1. Chonic Liver parenchymal disease with large hepatocellular carcinoma involving segment VII of right lobe liver
    2. Portal hypertension with venous collaterals
    3. Splenomeagly
    4. Moderate arcites

    After she went a radiation for her liver and now we are she is undergoing chemo. and the doctor says she is not eligible to go for a transplantation as the tumor size is 12cm and we should wait for at-least one month to see if the tumor size is reduced.
    so please advice what are the measures we should take to keep her alive. Hoping for your reply

    1. Hello: I am so sorry to hear about your mother’s liver cancer. I know there are many new treatments under development. Please visit our Liver Cancer Connect website at: http://www.hepb.org/research-and-programs/liver/
      Has she been tested for hepatitis D also? Having a hepatitis B and D coinfection can increase the risk of liver cancer. The only known treatment for hepatitis D is pegylated interferon.
      Have you yourself been tested for hepatitis B? Please get tested, and have your family members tested too. You may want to get tested for hepatitis D also.
      My thoughts are with you and your family. Good luck.

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