What’s a Bile Duct?

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I was diagnosed with a rare from of liver cancer on December 26th, after noticing the whites of my eyes were a hint of yellow. Cholangiocarcinoma is a cancer of the biliary system, otherwise know as cancer of the bile ducts. What made my cancer exceptionally rare is that I was diagnosed at 32 and this cancer usually presents at much older age, 65+.

The most effective form of treatment for cholangiocarcinoma is surgery or a liver transplant. Unfortunately, due to the location of my tumor, I was not a surgical candidate. After fighting with my local health care provider for over a month, I was finally given a referral to the Mayo Clinic in the hopes that I would be accepted into their liver transplant program.

After two weeks of testing in Rochester, I failed the program because the cancer had metastasized to two of three surrounding lymph nodes, changing my cancer from stage 2 to stage 3. Devastation is an understatement. After that crushing blow, my next step was chemo to see if I could get the tumor to shrink enough to qualify me for surgery.

After two months, the chemo seemed to be shrinking the tumor, but the original surgeon who diagnosed me didn’t want to touch it — it was far too close to the portal vein within the liver. I spent the next three months contacting over 10 liver surgeons nationwide to see if anyone would take my case.

In July 2019, my prayers were answered when a liver transplant surgeon from USC returned my call and told me he could do it, he could cut it out of me. I spent the next two months finishing a six-month chemo treatment. I lost my hair, weight, integrity, but found compassion, trust and most importantly: love.

On October 3rd, 2019 I underwent a 10 hour liver resection surgery where 60% of my liver was removed along with my bile ducts, gallbladder, and surrounding lymph nodes. Within 10 days of the surgery, my liver had already regenerated 80%. The body has an incredible capacity to heal.

I finished up 2019 with 30 rounds of radiation and an additional month of oral chemo. My first scans in February showed no new lesions and I am officially in remission. Cholangiocarcinoma is a scary cancer with a low 5 years survivability, but I try not to focus on the numbers because I don’t feel they are indicative of “my” cancer or my will to live.

By Laurel Mason

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