When I first found out that I had fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, and a tumour in my liver, I couldn’t believe it. I felt fine – no negative effects at all! But my doctors prescribed surgery and chemotherapy, and put me on a transplant list. I wondered: “Why me?” The last drink I’d had was years before, at a wedding. And when I pictured myself getting old and dying, the word “transplant” had never entered my mind. But there I was, at age 62, on the transplant list.
There are different stages of grief and one of them is acceptance. When I finally got the call that a liver was ready for me last December, I wasn’t afraid. I felt that whatever was going to happen would happen. I’d written letters to all my kids, just in case.
I got the call on December 20th, right before Christmas. I went to the hospital that very day, and they finished the surgery on the 21st. I was in the hospital for 16 days, so I came home in early January – I came out of the hospital and everything was over, Christmas, New Year’s – I completely missed the holidays. Everyone says, “You got the best gift, a new liver.” And don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for it. But they don’t know all the in-between stuff. And it was so unexpected and sudden. I’d been on the transplant list for 13 months.
Now, I’m feeling good. I take about 30 pills a day but I’m feeling really good – great, even. I’m off work until the summer and I’m focused on my recovery. I have three children and five grandchildren, and another one on the way. I’m looking forward to spending time with the baby. And I’m looking forward to my hair growing in more. Right now, it’s growing in slowly and unevenly. It just sort of stands up – I feel like a porcupine.
When I was going through my treatment, I lost a lot of hair – it was falling out all over the place and had gotten really patchy. So I got it shaved off. I had a hard time looking at myself in the mirror after that. It felt so jarring to see my bald head. The hospital had a little resource centre with wigs and caps, and that’s how I learned about Look Good Feel Better (LGFB).
The LGFB workshop and getting that kit in the mail changed my whole outlook of how I think about myself. I started caring about my appearance more. I began wearing earrings and makeup to accentuate the positives, like my blue eyes. I learned so many great techniques – how to put on eye shadow and where to start the eyeliner so it doesn’t bring my eye down and how to apply blush properly.
I talked to my psychiatrist about this and he pointed out that while doctors treat the illness, it’s important to look at the person as a whole – how they feel about themselves and how they look at themselves. I agree. LGFB is an important resource because it helps people like me to feel normal again. I was treated as a patient for so long – going for so many procedures and getting lots of bad news. It made me feel forgotten, like I was an illness and not a person. LGFB made me feel like myself again, and like I was getting my life back. When I looked better, I felt better, and most importantly, I started feeling like myself again, or a new version of myself. It really did make a difference. I’m not just my cancer – I’m so much more.