After living with liver cancer, coming full circle

At age 59, I was fit, healthy and happily retired. My husband Clint and I had just returned from a great trip to Churchill Manitoba, the land of polar bears and beluga whales. I was pretty thin at the time, but I noticed that my stomach had been bloated. It was hard, not flabby, which I had heard could be a sign of ovarian cancer. I made myself a gynecologist appointment right away, but even an internal sonogram turned up nothing. The next day I was relaxing at our swim club with my 3-year-old grandson, whom we had been raising since he was 3 weeks old. I started having horrific abdominal pains. They were persistent and scary. My husband immediately took me to the emergency room.

That night my world changed forever. An X-ray and a CT scan showed a large mass in my abdomen and lots of spots in my lungs. It took a biopsy the next day to confirm the diagnosis of primary cancer of the liver, hepatocellular carcinoma. My husband and I were devastated. Life as we knew it was over--so we thought. Thank God we were wrong.

The only bright spot during that time was that the lung lesions turned out to not be malignant. There was no metastasis. It was determined to be a form of granuloma, frequently seen in this part of the country. I told my sons of my diagnosis that week, and then sent an email to relatives and friends. I told them the news and all its implications. I let them know I still wanted to have people around me and please not to change the way we interacted, not to feel sorry for me, or walk on eggshells around me. I told them if they didn't feel uncomfortable talking about it, neither did I. So, that's what we did. We talked, we cried, we prayed, we fought.

What a wonderful support system I had, especially my husband and my oldest son, Keith. While the physicians never gave me a stage for my cancer, they couldn't remove all of the cancer after my liver resection. I then went to M.D. Anderson, where the physicians said I had many more tumors. They said my prognosis was about seven months "on a bell curve," and I might live a little longer because I was otherwise healthy.

They said I could never have a liver transplant. They were wrong.

It has been seven years since that awful day when I was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. A lot of prayers, healing, medical treatment, undergoing radiation called Theraspheres, traveling to cancer centers around the nation, a status of NED (no evidence of disease), and yes, even a liver transplant have come in between.

At age 66, I have come full circle, back to fit, healthy and happily retired. These days I'm trying to pay it forward by mentoring other newly diagnosed liver cancer patients through organizations like beatlivertumors.org, Imerman's Angels and University of Cincinnati liver transplant support group. I want my example to replace fear and desperation with hope and perseverance. I have truly been blessed.

You can read Nancy Hamm's full account of living with liver cancer and 26 other survivor stories in "From Incurable to Incredible" by Tami Boehmer.