Liver cancer – my dad’s story

My dad died of liver cancer 10 years ago, on 12th May  aged only 50. This is the day I will never forget and every year on this day I remember him and how he died. Before he died he had to go through terrible suffering, suffering I wouldn’t wish anybody to go through. The details of his suffering and death stayed within the circle of my close family, but on the 10th anniversary of his death I wanted to write about this on my blog to raise awareness of liver cancer and see what we can do (if anything) to protect one of the most important human organs in the body.

How it started

My dadMy dad never had any major health concerns and was quite a healthy man, keeping his health in check by attending regular doctor’s check ups. It was in December 2003 when he started vomiting and had high temperature and possibly some other symptoms, which I can’t remember at this moment in time. This was thought to be some kind of winter bug and when the symptoms eased it seemed there was nothing to worry about.

However, in the beginning of 2004 certain symptoms continued (I can’t remember exactly as I wasn’t there – in Slovenia). They thought it was gallstones at first but then doctor decided to send him for some tests to identify the real cause. He had to go to oncology department in a hospital in the capital of Slovenia (Ljubljana) to go through some tests. At that time I was in the UK studying a full time course at the college.

Liver cancer stage 4 diagnosis

I remember the day when I found out. I was in a supermarket doing some food shopping and my mum called me. She told me that the results from tests came and that dad had cancer. It was in the stage 4 already and he had only 4 months to live. It was such a big shock for me and so unreal and tears started to slip down my cheeks and had to turn to some shelves and wipe my eyes and clean my nose. At first I thought this can’t be right, there is something that could be done. And how can this happen to my dad who was always quite healthy man, and at that young age? News like this was difficult to accept.

Prognosis

When my dad was diagnosed, liver cancer was already in advanced stages and there wasn’t much doctors could do. They tried to start a chemotherapy treatment on his leg but due to a blocked vein this was not possible. Other option was a radiotherapy but because of his gallstones this was also not possible and would not work. The liver transplant just wasn’t an option at that stage. Knowing this and the fact that there wasn’t much I could do to help was really upsetting.

Going back home

At that time I was in the middle of studying for my exams at the college in the UK and after finding out the news I was planning to go back home very soon. I continued talking to my family to keep me updated of any new developments hoping that they will discover some kind of treatment to help my dad get better or find some kind of solution to keep him alive for longer.

The time I booked the flight was when my mum called me to tell me that my dad was asking for me. My dad was a quiet man, thinking a lot to himself and not really telling us what’s really happening inside. On that day my mum and him were outside in a field with my mum doing some work – they were growing vegetables for the family and there was always one thing or another to be done in the field. Due to the symptoms he was suffering from my dad couldn’t do much work at that time but while waiting for my mum to finish doing what she had to do, he was thinking to himself as he would normally do. He probably realised that there wasn’t many days left in his life as he said to my mum with sad and upset voice: “Where is my Petra, oh my Petra, when is she coming?”
When my mum told me that, I knew I had to come quicker than I planned initially, so I booked the flight straight away and one week later I was there.

Visit at the hospital

When I arrived back home, my dad was in a hospital due to his symptoms getting worse and I was going to visit him as soon as I arrived. My family were trying to prepare me for it, describing me how much the illness has changed him. They told me that his skin has now yellow tone to it and some yellow can be seen in his eyes too. They warned me he would look much different and that I shouldn’t cry in front of him. The agreement was that we will all be strong in front of him, giving him support he needed (this would be my 2 sisters and my mum).

No matter how much I mentally prepared to see my ill dad, it was still shocking and it was really hard to behave in a normal way when I saw him. He was on a hospital balcony getting some fresh air and sitting on a chair. He lost a lot of weight and he didn’t look like my dad any more, he looked much older, looking more like my granddad. After greeting him I had to turn around and wipe my tears. It was hard being strong, but we had to be – for him. To protect him we also didn’t tell him everything what doctors told us, but I think he knew anyway. We were concerned that telling him the whole truth would upset him and kill any hope he might have had.

Suffering

He was discharged from the hospital soon but in the next month or so he would be in and out of hospital again, but he really wanted to be at home. It came to a point when his pains were unbearable. He couldn’t sleep and my mum couldn’t sleep either, looking after him at night. Doctor prescribed him morphine patches for use when pains get worse. He started wearing them all the time, but still they weren’t strong enough to ease the pain. One day he couldn’t get up from the bed and he also had not enough strength to drink with a straw. We called an ambulance and they took him to the hospital. They told us that all his organs were slowly failing and he probably has till the morning to live. He was still conscious at that time and knew exactly what was happening. I remember him lifting his head from the hospital trolley and saying with a weak voice: “Home”. He wanted to die at home and we agreed so the doctor put him on a drip and ambulance took him back home. There was not much they could do.

We were then staying at his bedside in turns, wetting his dry lips and listening to anything he had to say. I think the strong painkillers made him sleepy and he would be there lying with his eyes closed, sometimes moaning due to the pains he felt and we would be there for him, holding his hand.

In the morning he was still alive and he also made it through the day and we continued to keep vigil at his bedside.
In the evening while I was at his bedside he called my older sister’s name. She was upstairs having a rest. We told her that he called her name but she didn’t come down straight away. When she did our dad was already in a comma. The end was coming. We all gathered around him, my mum praying. His eyelids were slowly lifting and at some point you could see his eyes half open, but not really looking at you, asleep. His breaths were slowing down, time between breaths taking longer. And it came a moment when his chest lifted for one more time and never again. This is the moment my dad died, aged 50, on 12th May 2004 at 11.38pm. 

Why he had to die so young I don’t know. And how did he even get a liver cancer? Lots of questions were going through my head after his death. My mum told me that he had his liver checked a few years back and they were healthy.

What causes liver cancer?

Although the exact cause of liver cancer is unknown, it has been linked to damage and scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) – NHS

The main causes of cirrhosis in England are prolonged alcohol misuse, non-fatty alcoholic liver disease and hepatitis C.
Smokers also have higher risk of getting a liver cancer which increases if they are overweight and they drink a lot.

My dad smoked a lot, was overweight and when he was young he used to drink a lot. Combination of these factors and possibly some others which we are not aware of contributed to this terrible illness and horrible death.

Cancer prevention

I don’t wish anybody to go through the suffering my dad went through but what can we do to avoid this illness? We should do EVERYTHING we can in this moment in time to prevent it. You can do it! You can lead a healthier life, just follow the basic rules:

  • don’t smoke
  • avoid too much alcohol
  • keep your weight healthy
  • eat a healthy diet with 7 portions of fruit and veg a day (more veg than fruit)
  • exercise

Here are some a couple of good videos about liver cancer prevention:

Have you lost your loved one for liver cancer or any other type of cancer which could have been prevented? What is your experience? Comment below.

Related article:
How to look after your liver

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