Liver cancer patient celebrates all-clear after life-saving surgery

March 2014

When Dorothy Horsman heard those three dreaded words “You have cancer” her world turned upside down. 

Dorothy, a former mental healthcare manager and married mother of two from Bradford was then told by doctors she had cancer of the bile duct, which had spread to her liver. Her doctor told her she had only about two months to live and they could do nothing further for her other than manage the pain. She returned home distraught. “My first thought was I might not live to see my daughter Ellen’s wedding,” said Dorothy, who was 55 at the time of diagnosis with two daughters aged 18 and 22.  

Dorothy Horsman and her grandson

Every day in the UK, around 910 people are diagnosed with cancer. Cancer survival rates in the UK have doubled in the last five years and around half now survive their disease for at least five years beyond diagnosis, although these statistics vary depending on the type of cancer and age of the individual concerned. *

Dorothy was one of the lucky ones. The day after her devastating diagnosis her doctor called her to say he knew of a specialist hepatobiliary consultant called Professor Peter Lodge at Spire Leeds Hospital who might be able to help her. The family has a strong faith and as soon as they met Professor Lodge they felt their prayers had been answered. Dorothy had surgery a few days after Christmas 2005.

That was nine years ago. Today, her annual scan shows she is clear of cancer, and not only did she live to see her daughter Ellen get married. She also saw the birth of her grandson, Gabriel, now four years old.

Dorothy’s story began in 2000 when she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and would wake up at night with pain in her legs. She then found a tiny painful gland-like swelling in her foot; a sign of the cancer. When her doctor referred her to Professor Lodge, Dorothy immediately made an appointment and went to see him at Spire Leeds Hospital taking her sister and husband along for support. “Professor Lodge told me I had had cancer for a long time. With hindsight that made sense as I felt tired all the time. I used to fall asleep in meetings,” she said.

It was a rare form of cancer – a tumour called a neuroendocrine carcinoma. Professor Lodge discussed the risks with Dorothy. “It was very high risk and there was a chance the cancer would be inoperable. There was a ten percent risk of death during surgery – about 20 times the risk of heart surgery,” said Professor Lodge.  Dorothy decided she wanted to go ahead and the surgery was performed a few days after Christmas 2005.

Professor Lodge said, “If Dorothy had not had the surgery It is my opinion that she may only have had a few weeks to live. At the time this was the largest liver operation I had performed. In fact I had to remove more than 80 percent of Dorothy’s liver and also removed the bile duct and created a new one. I also removed lymph glands from around the liver to make sure we had cleared everything. It took myself and my surgical team beyond boundaries at that time of what had been done before. Although very rare in 2005 we are doing this type of surgery more commonly today and Leeds has an international reputation for dealing with difficult liver tumours.”

Her family waited outside surgery, which took around eight hours. Her husband of 39 years, Ronny, said. “It sounds strange but the longer she was in surgery the more hope it gave us, because we knew if she had only been a short time it would mean they had found the cancer to be inoperable.”

The surgery was successful. She stayed in Spire Leeds Hospital for almost three months and made a steady recovery. The cancer had been completely removed so there was no need for chemotherapy or radiography. “This was a life-saving procedure for Dorothy and she is now heading towards ten years from the surgery,” said Professor Lodge.

Once fully recovered, Dorothy felt well and life returned to normal. She has annual CT scans. When she reaches her ten-year anniversary she will have another full body scan and, assuming everything is still clear, she will be discharged.

 “Professor Lodge saved my life and I can not praise him highly enough. I feel so lucky as I might not have lived to see my grandson. He brings a smile to my face every day!”

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