In loving memory of his dear wife Sue, Garry Lambert relates the heartbreaking story of her fight against liver cancer.
A shining light of love, laughter and generosity was brutally extinguished on 4 January 2018 when my adored wife Susan Lambert passed away at age 71, after a short but terrifying battle against cancer of the liver.
It was a tragedy with so little warning. Although Sue suffered bravely for over 30 years with autoimmune hepatitis complicated by liver cirrhosis, six-monthly monitoring by her gastroenterologist, and immuno-suppressant drugs including Imurek® and others such as Prednison Streuli®, had seemingly kept it under control for all that time. Despite unpleasant side effects she refused to allow the disease to prevent her from leading a full life.
We had absolutely no idea that all was not right until she saw her general practitioner at the end of November, complaining of painfully swollen legs. He diagnosed an enlarged liver and an MRI scan confirmed the presence of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Oncologists at the Genolier Clinic in Switzerland then gave us the dreadful news that the aggressive cancers were too advanced to treat and palliative care was really the only option.
From then on we were hit by an express train that took dear Sue from us in a little over four weeks. We were with her almost day and night at the clinic, sharing a roller coaster ride of hope, and dashed hope, as the team of doctors treated her with a cocktail of drugs, infusions and transfusions, but could do little to save her.
The progress of the disease from her admission to the clinic on 3 December 2017 to her death on 4 January was terrifying to watch and frighteningly fast.
A silent killer?
Since then myself and my son and daughter have experienced many tearful emotions from deep grief to anger — anger that more could not have been done to save her. That the oncologists were unable to apply any sort of remedial treatment prompts several questions in my mind:
“How had the tumours become so advanced before my wife noticed any sort of discomfort?” “Would closer monitoring, including ultrasound examinations, have resulted in earlier diagnosis and possible treatment?” “Is liver cancer a silent killer that can strike without warning?”
A call for more research
Since my wife’s passing, two other women, one only aged 45, have died of liver cancer at the clinic. Although I speak as a layman and not as a health care professional, it suggests to me that liver cancer is difficult to treat successfully, and that survival rates are lower than most other cancers. I have seen statistics showing that liver cancer is the sixth most frequent cancer, but the second leading cause of death after pancreatic cancer.
While many human diseases are now successfully cured or controlled, the same cannot be said for this leading killer. Clearly, there is an urgent need for more effective treatment of cancer of the liver to cut the tragic annual loss of life. But the intensive research necessary to achieve this goal does, of course, demand substantial funding.
Yet another life lost to liver cancer.
“Sue was the loveliest personality, warm hearted and sweet natured, she lit up the room. Life will never be so much fun again without her.”
Many friends who knew and loved Sue have donated to the International Liver Foundation in her memory. It is sadly too late to save my wife, but I hope these and many other much needed donations will help to save lives in future.