Kim MacLennan’s Liver Cancer story — what the Cornwall Stroll for Liver means to her and the lives of many others

Courtesy photo

CORNWALL — Kim hadn’t been feeling right for quite some time, but, like so many people do, she chalked it up to hard work and exhaustion. She had been working lots of overtime on a project she loved, so she kept going and going. “Kind of like the Energizer bunny,” she says.

One spot of fun in Kim’s busy days was her carpool to work, and among her commuting friends was a radiology technician who had been put in charge of training her colleagues in the use of a new piece of imaging equipment. Kim volunteered to be a mock patient, and after two training sessions, her friend approached her with a suggestion that she should see a specialist. The machine had revealed a very small but pronounced spot on Kim’s liver.

Initially, Kim’s doctor referred her to someone who didn’t seem to give her concerns due consideration, but by the time that consultation happened, she was beginning to experience some pain, so she insisted on a second opinion. Then a third. And a fourth. Finally, after a year and a half of follow up, Kim was seen by a liver specialist team in Ottawa. They found that the spot on her liver had grown to the size of a watermelon.

When medication meant to shrink the tumour didn’t work, the team advised surgery. The hope was that removing 2/3 of the tumor would alleviate Kim’s symptoms, but within three months, it had re-grown to its original size and began to mutate. A second surgery was scheduled to remove the tumour, but tests leading up to that procedure showed that the tumor had impeded two of the three veins going into her liver, allowing only one vein to function. Additionally, the walls of the tumour had fused with the wall of the main portal vein. Surgery was impossible under those circumstances. Kim would need a liver transplant.

Life while waiting for a transplant was very difficult. Kim had to endure a drain that was put in so that bile could drain away — about two litres each day for a year and a half. Then, of course, there was the pain that was increasing as time went on. Eventually, Kim was left with no choice but to take a leave from work. Depression soon overtook her, and, feeling that her story was not going to have a happy ending, Kim began to put her personal affairs in order.

Three attempts to get a viable organ failed, as did Kim’s hopes. When a fourth call came, Kim couldn’t muster any excitement, but went through the motions in spite of herself. Numb and indifferent, she went to the hospital. She got “prepped.” The more time passed, the more hopeful things seemed. Soon it became clear. This liver was going to be “the one.”

On April 30, 2014, Kim received the most precious gift she could ask to receive — a life renewed by a donated liver. “I was on my way to a new life all because of the kindness, unselfishness, and love of this donor — a total stranger who saved me.” Hope returned.

Transplant stories don’t end with the transplant surgery, however. Kim experienced some post-surgical complications. Sadly, these will keep her from returning to the job she loved for so long. But none of the medical complications were so troubling to Kim as the loss of some friends and family who were unable to understand her experience. “They don’t know what to say,” Kim comments. “They don’t know what to ask, when to broach the subject.” Worst of all was the loss of her biggest supporter, her mom, who passed away recently.

Even as her social circle was shrinking in some areas, Kim found it was opening wide in other areas. The Canadian Liver Foundation hosts an annual Stroll for Liver event, and Kim attended the one in her area of Cornwall. Her “bestie” participated with her, one of the rockstar friends that Kim gives credit for sticking with her through the tough times. Kim and her friend, Cindy, felt it was important to give back to the community and encourage others who are also affected by liver disease.

“I think I know why the CLF calls the event a ‘stroll,’” Kim says. “Because when you stroll with someone, you talk with them. You bond. You may begin a friendship, and most likely, you talk about how you’re feeling.”

Kim’s goals for the future are simple: good health, good times, good friends, and a determination to give back to the community–supporting, encouraging, and helping those who are suffering from liver disease.

Will Kim do the Stroll for Liver again? Definitely. She says she wants to “literally walk the talk.”

Join Kim and her team at the Cornwall Stroll this summer.

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