Sheryl’s story: “Alcohol sneaks up on you. I thought ‘I can beat this, I can stop’ and it shocked me that I couldn’t”

Although she's worked in entertainment all her life, Sheryl was always quite shy so would have a drink before going on stage. When her brother tragically died, she began to drink more and had a mini breakdown. Since then she has tried rehab and, after being diagnosed with alcohol related liver disease, she was listed for transplant. However, her health then began to deteriorate and Sheryl is now receiving palliative care. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Sheryl. 

I loved singing and dancing from a young age and always knew I wanted to be on the stage. I had the talent to do it and it was my whole life from the age of 16. I was really lucky – I became an entertainer and travelled a lot, including Lebanon, Damascus, Cyprus and Italy. Las Vegas was my favourite – it was amazing and I worked there in a casino as an entertainer for six months.

Throughout my career I spent a lot of time in pubs and clubs and alcohol became my friend. It sneaks up on you. It was my go-to to make me feel better. When my brother tragically died, I couldn’t deal with the grief, so I pushed it down and pretended it hadn’t happened. This caused me to drink more and led to a mini breakdown. My partner couldn’t cope with the drinking and crying so I decided to move back to England to lick my wounds.

I have an amazing relationship with my mum and stayed with her in Bristol for six to eight months. My friends then started encouraging me to get back out there and sing again so I moved to Weymouth and worked there for 15 years.

Even though I was in entertainment, I was quite shy and withdrawn and would have a bottle of wine before I went on stage. The amount that I was drinking had gradually increased over the years until I was drinking around three bottles a day. I took myself to a drug and alcohol group where I had a two-week detox and worked with a lady who was so kind and caring. It wasn’t rehab, they just gave you two weeks then sent you back into the world again. I didn’t have the willpower then to stop drinking and didn’t feel equipped for what was to come. I felt I needed four months in rehab to get the help I needed to really address my problems, but didn’t get it.

I thought “I can beat this, I can stop” but it shocked me that I couldn’t.

My doctor asked "Do you know you have hepatitis C?"

In 2004 I went to see a doctor and after she’d run some blood tests, she said: “Did you know you have hepatitis C?” No, I didn’t and couldn’t think where I had got it from! More recently, I’ve thought about the eyeliner I had tattooed on in America years ago – maybe it came from there, which means I could have had it for 20 years, never realising my liver was being damaged. I was put on a drug that would clear the hep C and within three weeks it had gone. I took the medication for six months in total.

By 2014 my nose and gums were bleeding, I had pain in my stomach, my eyes were tinged yellow and I was shaking. I went to see my doctor and she was lovely and I went into another rehab again, but I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t get away from drinking. It was a horrendous time as I was around people who were drinking and had gone into an abusive relationship. He was just feeding me alcohol so I asked my doctor to write a letter that I could show him saying that if I didn’t stop drinking my liver would pack up and I would die. I was trying to show him that this was serious, it wasn’t funny.

I felt I needed to be isolated from that environment, so went home to my mum. During lockdown I was drinking a lot more but managed to get hold of the Bristol Drug and Alcohol People and I started doing work with them. By 2021 I was jaundiced, my legs and stomach were swollen and I was totally malnourished. I was rushed into hospital where I stayed for two to three weeks. I was stunned and shocked when I was told I had cirrhosis and diagnosed with alcohol related liver disease. The hospital told me my pancreas was ruined too and I couldn’t have another drink.

The dietician, alcohol liaison nurse and liver nurse all worked with me and they were wonderful, but after eight months things hadn’t improved so a transplant was my next option. It was test after test, two or three times a week, and every time they found something else wrong with me. I was referred to King’s College Hospital for a four-day assessment – the doctors were all lovely and kind and I was listed for transplant at the end of 2021.

They called me in June 2022, whisked me to London in the ambulance and took me to ICU, all ready for transplant. However, after a right-hand catheter test, they decided they didn’t like the readings. I knew I had a weak valve in my heart and they were going to try me on different meds to help with it, but it didn’t work and made me really ill – my kidneys nearly packed up. I was taken off the transplant list, but in November 2022 they put me back on it. I then got fluid in my lungs and couldn’t get off the oxygen and my shortness of breath started.

My doctor looked crestfallen when he said: “Sheryl, I am so sorry; I have tried everything. I have spoken to every expert but unfortunately, we cannot go ahead with a transplant.”

I’d had enough, I wanted to go into a hospice. I fell into an encephalopathic state and into a coma.

My whole world crumbled. Everything I was fighting for and being positive for was just taken away from me. I sat there and didn’t know what to do. They sent me home, but nothing was in place to take care of me. That sent me on a downward spiral and I lost my dog Suki then too. I was then put into palliative care. I’d had enough, I wanted to go into a hospice. I fell into an encephalopathic state and into a coma.

My mum carries leaflets about hepatic encephalopathy in her handbag everywhere in case anything happens to me. It’s like her bible. That leaflet saved my life and helped my mum to explain what was wrong. The encephalopathy feels like going in and out of a world where you don’t know what is real and what isn’t. I saw visions and was off on some adventures in my head which entertained my friends. I wasn’t sure where I was. I could see my dog and my dad. I could see people at my funeral.

I recovered but was in hospital for about a month and then ended up going back in again. It’s all a bit confusing, but I think I was in hospital for nearly three months. I was then put onto a syringe driver and my nurse came in “I’ve never seen Sheryl this bad, I think we’re going to lose her.

My mum was told to prepare herself – she was devastated. My friends came up from Weymouth. I was in a lot of pain, but I woke up and heard a voice say “You are not a quitter”. Then a nurse came in and opened the curtains and let me see the nice sunny day.

Life can still go on and you will still be looked after even if a transplant is no longer an option

After recovering in hospital I decided I was going to be positive and go back to Weymouth, see my friends, see the sea and inspire others who are going through this. I want to enjoy the time I have left. Life can still go on. You will still be looked after even if a transplant is no longer an option.

I’ve now gone into a nursing place and it’s the most beautiful place you could ever imagine. It’s like a hotel. I’ve got my own room and can see the sea, have 24/7 care and my food cooked for me. I just can’t put into words how blessed I am, even though I know I’m here for palliative care and might not have long to live. And my mum can relax that I am being looked after.

If you are in a similar situation my advice would be don’t give up. Get in as early as possible and get diagnosed. Although it’s not easy, try to stay positive. Get as much help, advice, and knowledge as you can. Advocate for yourself, you never know what options are open to you. Make sure you are getting the care you deserve. Shout loud for it!

The British Liver Trust are brilliant – the nurse-led helpline has been brilliant to my mum too. I knew nothing about the liver or liver disease and found the Trust through Googling. Their leaflets are simple to understand and I started with their alcohol related support group, then the pre-transplant group and the hepatic encephalopathy group. There’s always a group for something.

I really enjoy the groups and have made so many friends who are lovely and so supportive. I didn’t say anything in my first few groups but over time my confidence grew. I remember donating £20 for the Craft a Bear campaign which opened up conversations with other people. You always find something to laugh about and come away feeling good and uplifted.

I want to thank Amy Caffrey, the outreach project manager and everyone at the British Liver Trust.



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