Making a new start

Three years ago today, I decided that I would stop drinking in 2011, if only for January and I had my last drink on 2nd January 2011. It was a (large) Jack Daniels.

For the next month, I found myself counting the number of days (notable landmarks, 7 days, double figures) since a drink and when it got to the end of January, I decided I would continue my abstention. I managed this despite (because of?) the fact that we had spent 2 weeks in Tenerife in January that year.

I was diagnosed with haemochromatosis, a genetic blood disorder, in 2005 and this had an impact on my liver which led to an annual MRI. I was still not drinking when I had this done (65 days!) in March. On 24th March, we went for a working holiday to Mexico and by the time we left, I had not got a result of my scan.

We got back to UK on 13th April (83 days, despite the temptations of tequila) to hear increasingly panicky phone messages telling me to contact the gastroeneterology consultant as a matter of urgency.

To cut this bout of the story short, the MRI revealed a small tumour on my liver and subsequent consultations at St James's in Leeds, confirmed a diagnosis of liver cancer.

More to come ...


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16 Replies

  • Hi Mike. There must be good news down the line 'cause you're still here lol. Can't wait for the next episode. I know nothing about your condition but hope it all works out


  • Thanks Ph1ldad. You are not alone in not knowing about Haemochromatosis. It affects one in 200 northern european males and is a potential killer causing a range of conditions from arthritis to heart disease and particularly liver cancer. The chances are that your GP will not know much about it.

  • Thanks Mike. I've just spent a profitable half hour reading up on it :) I too have liver problems brought on from Hep C. Managed to last 16 years since cure but I'm beginning to get some problems now. Nothing like yours yet though. Hurry with episode 3. It's better than any tv soap lol. Good luck

  • Hi Ph1ldad, Yes, I realise my story (or this version of it) has some soap qualities but like the best soaps, has a moral - due about episode 4 or 5, I think.

  • "What next?" is the question that you are desperate to know the answer to when faced with this diagnosis. The answer is in the shape of another question: "Is this patient going to be put on the liver transplant list?"

    For me, the processes leading up to this decision took from diagnosis to late June when the results of a series of tests were considered by a multi-disciplinary team at the hospital. I had blood tests, urine analysis, MRI and CT scans, fitness assessments, cardiac and lung capacity tests and lots of meetings with the doctors and transplant coordinator teams. Among the questions they needed an answer to was "Are you still sober?" If I had not been able to answer "yes" to that question, I would not have been considered for transplant. In late June, however, (170 days sober), and after two delays because of staff issues, the transplant group agreed to admit me to the transplant list. At this point, I had to stay dry, keep as well as possible and not travel more than three hours away from Leeds so that in the event of a liver becoming available, I could get to hospital for the transplant.

    I was very fortunate during this time that I felt quite well, having no overt symptoms of the cancer and having returned to a degree of fitness I had not experienced for some time. Among the consequences of stopping drinking was quite rapid weight loss and by the end of June 2011, I had lost over 50 lbs. I was walking regularly and had started a limited weight circuit supplemented by visits to the local gym. I'd had a couple of treatments at St James's designed to reduce the size of the tumour and these had no ill effects.

    Socially, my wife and I started to explore some local attractions and we went to the Lake District, Manchester, Liverpool and Stratford upon Avon. Not drinking was very much on my mind but I was not tempted, even though inevitably, we were visiting restaurants. After a few experiments, I settled on sparkling water instead of my traditional selections of red wine or G&T.

    It was frustrating, however, and by November, we were both beginning to feel that an operation was not going to happen in 2011. We considered a number of options, including voluntarily coming off the transplant list for a short time so we could travel a little further. I didn't however, consider a drink.

    Just as we were ready to make a formal request, we had a late night phone call and we found ourselves driving over the M62 in the middle of the night.


  • Of course, things never go in quite the way you expect them. We had a good but decidedly odd journey across the motorway and we were welcomed in the Bexley Wing to be told that there was a possibility of a liver being available and to try to get some sleep. This was, of course, impossible and in any event we were told at about 5.30am that the liver was not suitable. We drove home - an even odder journey than the one out.

    By now, I was a committed non-user of alcohol and while I did not mind being around people who drank in moderation, I was keenly aware that I had not been one of those and I was wondering about the extent to which my alcohol (mis)use had contributed towards my condition.

    As I said before, haemochromatosis can cause a range of conditions including:


    heart problems


    liver damage, including cirrhosis and cancer

    gastro problems

    and I had them all, probably as a consequence of drinking too much. Among my ambitions would be to persuade people like me - to all intents and purposes, a functioning alcoholic - to stop drinking.

    My determination, then, was not affected by the disappointment of this missed liver; what it did do was persuade us that it would not be a good idea to come off the list, even for a short time.

    Less than a month later, in fact, we had another late night call and once more made the journey across the pennines. After a long wait while clinical checks took place, I was told at midday on Sunday 11th December 2011 that I was on my way to theatre.

    For another version of this story, see

    I think there is public access, but let me know if there is not and I will look for another way to post it.

    FInal bit tomorrow.


  • Missed out yesterday despite being sober ...

    As you might guess from the fact that I am writing this two years down the line, my operation was successful and I am now the recipient of a new liver. While I am on a lifetime drug regime to keep me well, I don't find this a problem.

    I indicated a couple of episodes ago that there was a moral to my story and there are, in fact, two:

    if you and anyone you know starts to suffer from any of the conditions mentioned in the last episode, go to your GP and ask for your ferritin levels to be checked. This is the indicator of haemochromatosis and it is under-diagnosed. The test is easy (small amount of blood) and the treatment, if you are identified, involves giving blood to reduce the iron concentration. If caught early enough, it can avoid any future symptoms, up to and including cancer.

    Secondly, think about giving up drinking. I found it very easy to become someone who drank too much too regularly and still have the appearance of managing a challenging role and all the evidence suggests that far too many of us have a problem with alcohol. My strategy was to go "cold turkey" and count out the number of hours and days (literally, for the first week or so) since I had a drink. Others may need support and it is out there (from AA to alcohol services through your GP). Among the many advantages is the amount of money you can save but the most important one is your health. Waking up completely fresh is fantastic and well worth the occasional session when you find yourself in the company of drinkers, who seem to be having a great time while you quietly sip your water or whatever.

    Thanks for reading and have a great 2014!


  • Mike ,fantastic read and so pleased for you - although i have drank far too much in the past I am determined to get my driving licence back in two years and of course get my GGT and calcium levels back up. I dont appear to suffer with many of the systems that I have seen posted but I do have a bit of a tender feeling on the left hand side under my rib cage i think! This usually goes when I dont drink (cos I cant have one pint I have to have 4, 5 or 6!), however that was the past I am now in the future. Doctors doesnt want to see me for 3 months to monitor my lft via blood tests again - I just prey the GGT has come down. I will keep reading your story mike and again well done on the transplant and how you are doing!

  • Thanks Julia. Hope all goes well for you.

  • Thanks for the full story Mike. I'm glad there's a good outcome sand wish you a long and happy life. Though I hardly drink and haven't for years, I have a problem with nicotine so I'm using your method to give up the evil weed lol. Two days in and I miss it like an old lover hehe. I need to beat it though; might stand in the way of a new liver if I ever get that bad. Good life and happiness to you and yours. Phil

  • And the same to you Phil. I hope you are managing to deal with the weed - something I found much harder when I stopped.

  • yes indeed Mike I used the same strategy but had some unpleasant side effects in the form of PAWS which eventually subsided-feeling healthy was good though-glad to hear of your outcome

  • I think I was lucky in respect to withdrawal but I read that various forms of anxiety can be a consequence and I think in my case that came out as slightly obsessive behaviour - counting hours and then days being an example. As you say, however, this does pass.

  • I am sorry to hear of your problem. I can add that you are in a fist class unit. I received the gift of a transplant just over a year ago in St James unit in Leeds. The treatment I received there was of the highest class and I cannot praise them enough so you are in the best of hands. Livers are in short supply and I try to encourage others to ask their family,friends and aquaintances to join the donor list. I wish you the very best of luck for the future.

  • Thanks ancient. I don't want to anticipate the story, so for the present, I will agree with you completely about St James's.

  • Hi Mike, the BMJ article is open access & is fascinating. Thanks

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