Patient Story Feature: The Ups and Downs of a Liver Cancer Journey by Anthony Villiotti

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Anthony Villiotti HeadshotSt. Patrick’s Day seems to be a recurring theme throughout my liver cancer journey: I was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma on March 17, 2017 and exactly one year later, I received the phone call telling me that I was getting a new liver. Before my battle with liver cancer, I had struggled with weight problems, diabetes, NASH, and cirrhosis. Within months after my liver cancer diagnosis, I received stereotactic body radiation therapy, which successfully stopped the growth of the tumor as I waited for a liver transplant. The wait was filled with emotional ups and downs, which was the worst part of the whole ordeal. I went from being optimistic for a new liver one day to writing my obituary the next. My liver was deteriorating. Hepatic encephalopathy and ascites were some of the many symptoms I experienced. After nine months of being on the transplant list, I finally received a liver transplant. Managing my health post-transplant has had its fair share of challenges: anti-rejection medication has made it more difficult to control my diabetes and weight, my kidneys have been damaged, and I still worry about the recurrence of NASH. So, having a successful transplant is half the battle, while keeping up with doctors’ recommendations is equally important.

A transplant can be a lifesaver, but it is not a get out of jail free card; after all, it carries ramifications that highlight the importance of early diagnosis and prevention as you are much better off not having to go through this obstacle in life. Unfortunately, early diagnosis and prevention is hampered by a lack of awareness around liver health. We grow up not knowing much about our liver. This further drives the stigma against having liver cancer. When my wife shared my liver cancer diagnosis with others, people often made assumptions about my alcohol consumption patterns. I was not destined to get liver cancer; rather, it was the end result of a combination of factors, including not being diagnosed early enough to take actions to prevent it. This is why as President of NASH-kNOWledge, I made it my and my organization’s mission to increase public awareness of non-alcoholic liver disease.

Anthony Villiotti

Springfield, Illinois, USA

Type II Diabetes (1985 – Present); NASH (2014 – 2018); Cirrhosis (2015-2018); Liver Cancer (2017 – 2018)