What would you do if your doctor told you that you only had a year to live because of cancer? Most people would be devastated. The mere thought of not being around to care for their families, see their children graduate from school, get married and start a family would break their heart. Questions like how can they beat the odds and have a chance to outlive their dire prognosis; what do they need to do to even have a chance; where do they start would go through their minds.
To help answer those questions, a man named James “Rhio” O’Connor story comes to mind. He was diagnosed at age 61 with plural mesotheliona. It is a cancer that occurs in the thin layer of cells in the lining of the lungs. In his youth, he had been exposed to asbestos that causes 70% of cases of mesothelioma. He is an inspiration to cancer patients because he outlived his cancer prognosis by creating a blueprint that helped him manage his cancer for over seven years.
In my essay I will start by writing about what I learned about liver cancer that took the lives of two family members. Then I will talk about the treatment options that they could have benefited from and help design had they been living in the US.
The phone rang around 5 AM. I knew that it was a call from Senegal West Africa and it was bad news. “Simon” my brother said: “I am sorry to tell you that dad passed away tonight. He had liver cancer. Be courageous. I know you are very far. We will see you soon.” Tears started dropping from my face. I had talked to my dad a month before about the preparations for my coming wedding. Nobody knew he was sick until it was too late. Why him? Why my cousin Dominique? What could they have done differently to not be at risk? Does it run in the family? I wanted to know more about it and I started doing my own research. On a later conversation with my brother, I learned that when X rays were taken from my father’s liver, it was completely destroyed. He drank a cup of wine or two before lunch but was not an alcoholic. On the internet I found that liver cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the world. A deadly cancer, it kills almost all patients who have it within one year. The liver is made of different cell types such as bile ducts, blood vessels and fat-storing cells. But liver cells or hepatocytes make up 80% of the liver tissue. Thus the majority of liver cancers comes from liver cells and is called hepatocellular cancer. When patients and doctors speak of liver cancer however they are talking about a cancer that has spread to the liver and has originated in other organs. Three quarter of the cases are found in South East Asia and also in Sub-Saharan Africa where I am from. Though it is lower in Europe and America, it is rising very rapidly.
The main culprits for liver cancer are alcohol, chronic hepatitis B and C, drugs and chemicals, Aflatoxin B1, Cirrhosis.
When someone abuses alcohol for many years then stops, the cells in their liver try to repair and regenerate. In the process some cells mutate and develop liver cancer. But alcohol adds to the risk of individuals with chronic hepatitis B and C infection.
Hepatitis B and C are caused by two viruses that mutate a lot. They are very hard to get rid of. After many years they reach a chronic level that increases exponentially the risks of liver cancer because they create inflammations of the liver and scars the make the liver cells mutate.
Aflatoxin B1 is a product of a mold found in food stored in hot and humid conditions such as rice, peanuts, wheat and corn. It is believed to produce a mutation of the gene p53. These mutations work to inhibit the gene p53 tumor suppressor function. We eat a lot of rice in Senegal. And I came to believe that the reason for my father’s illness was that mold.
Cirrhosis increases the risks of liver cancer because there is always a combination with conditions mentioned earlier like Hepatitis B and C.
Medication does not cause liver cancer. But female hormones and protein building steroids are associated with hepatic adenoma.
Because only 5% of patients who are at risk survive even 5 years without treatment, the only hope for patients is a regular check ups. If you are an individual that is at risk because of your chronic Hepatitis B or C, have Cirrhosis or is a recovering alcoholic, go see your doctor every 6 months for a check up. Limit your exposure to Hepatitis B and C risks by have protected sex and not using soiled needles for any shots to avoid hepatitis B and C. If you live in sub Saharan –Africa, avoid the food that is stored in hot and humid places. Early cancers can be treated by surgical removal, destruction of tumors, liver transplantation or chemotherapy,
It would be beneficial to take a look at internal Chinese martial arts that are specifically developped to strengthen the body’s immune system and internal organs. The Chinese believe that your body is made of energy. The more energy and balance you have, the better your health is. These various movements are meant to help your body find a balance. In most of the western world we exercise our muscles but we fail to recognize that our organs need to have some type of internal exercises as well. Studies have been done that showed that Tai Chi improved functional capacity in breast cancer patient and reduced the risks for colon cancer.
There are other alternative forms of medicine all the world over that I could mention like the Native Americans and cancer.
In conclusion I believe that if my dad and my cousin were living in the US they might have been able to have the benefit of an early diagnosis. They could have learned to use regular treatments combined with Chinese internal martial arts to manage their cancer.