“We will make it as comfortable for you as possible in the last two weeks you have left.” This was the message that 27-year-old Mark Wood received in May of last year, when he was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer.
What is liver cancer?
Cancer originating in the liver is very rare; there are only about 5,700 new cases of liver cancer in the UK each year. Usually when patients have liver cancer, the cancer originates from somewhere else and has then spread to the liver. The symptoms are night sweats, mild fever, chills and general fatigue of the body. Very little is known about what causes liver cancer.
Cirrhosis is a condition of the liver that is linked to high alcohol consumption or hepatitis B and C, which can lead to liver cancer. Another disease that can lead to cirrhosis, and ultimately to liver cancer, is haemochromatosis (accumulation of iron in the body due to a faulty gene).
The disease that Mark Wood suffered from was genetic. It occurs due to a genetic deficiency, which causes the control mechanisms of the body on iron uptake to fail. After a while, iron will accumulate freely in the body, which is harmful to the organs.
If liver cancer is detected in its early stages, it can be removed surgically and the liver can then regenerate. It can also be treated with radio waves that are targeted directly at the tumour, but this also requires that the liver cancer is detected in its early stages. All the cells in Mark Wood’s liver were infected with cancer, so this was not an option.
Was there enough time for a transplant?
The only remaining option was to get a transplant. A process, which usually takes about three weeks from the time a donor has been found, which in itself usually takes even longer. However, the doctors were not sure if Mark Wood had three weeks left to live.
Liver transplants are typically considered as a last resort. The liver contains a lot of blood, which complicates the operation. In addition, it is often seen that the patients develop cancer in the new liver they receive.
The doctors were uncertain whether it would be of use to sign Mark Wood up for a liver from a donor. Fortunately, they did sign him up, and he ended up receiving a new liver, which he is living with today. He takes medication every day to ensure that his body does not reject the liver.
No matter how healthy your lifestyle is, you can get cancer
Both Mark's mother and grandfather has suffered from cancer, which is why he has always lived a healthy life.
Cigarettes, alcohol, junk food and sweets have never appealed to him. Mark Wood lives an active life, in which he instructs clients in CrossFit, while at the same time practising weightlifting at the highest level.
He says ironically: “I just thought I was suffering from overtraining and that if I rested a little, I would get well again. I have always tried to do everything I can to minimise the risk of getting cancer.”
It comforted his sense of justice a bit when he was told that the disease was genetic. In this way, he knew that it would not have helped to have done anything differently.
Focus on his loved ones
In spite of everything, Mark Wood was never shocked about getting cancer. He was neither shocked when the doctors told him that his time was up. His biggest concern was what would happen to the people around him.
“When I was told that I had liver cancer and that the doctors could not remove it without a transplant, a lot of people, who I do not regard as my closest friends but as good acquaintances, visited me. I felt more sorry for the fact that they had to be in the room with me when I got the news than I felt sorry for myself,” Mark Wood says with a calm smile.
At every step of the way, his greatest focus has been on the people around him. He was the one, who was in the hospital bed and had a death sentence hanging over his head. In spite of that, he focused on what the impact would be for his loved ones if he died.
He says: “I was sure that I would die from it, but I did not want my wife's life to be in ruins because something bad had happened to me that we could not control. That was the hardest thing, I think.”
Everyone were to leave the hospital room with a smile
He had a principle that all the people, who entered his hospital room, should have a smile on their lips before leaving the room again.
“Some of my friends gave me a Nintendo, which we played on when they visited me. If they were about to beat me, I would turn to them and say: “Really? Are you aware that this might be my last game of Mario Kart, and you won’t let me win?”” He says while laughing.
In the beginning, he could tell that people were sad, even before they entered the room because, like him, they expected him to die from the cancer. The way in which people looked at him was the worst.
Mark Wood says: “Some people go through life thinking that bad things will never happen to them. I have always known that, although the risk might be less than one percent, there was a risk of me getting cancer with my family’s medical history, so it never came as a shock to me.”
He has just completed his latest scan with positive results. He has now been cancer-free for a year and is back in the training facilities, where he is working to stay strong and become even stronger than he was before his disease course.