The shock of being diagnosed with NASH and cirrhosis due to her diet also made Michelle think about her alcohol intake. She was determined to see her grandchildren grow up, so she decided to eat more healthily and is now teetotal. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Michelle
"I’m a type 2 diabetic so obviously have a check-up every year through my GP. In 2019 the bloods and liver function tests came back raised. The tests were repeated in case it was a one-off, but they were still raised so I had an ultrasound and a polyp was discovered in my gallbladder. The decision to leave it or take it out was borderline so they decided to take it out along with my gall bladder.
I was referred to the gastroenterology department where I had a CT scan and a FibroScan and was shocked when I was diagnosed with NASH and cirrhosis. I was surprised that I had such a fatty build-up on my liver due to my diet, but I used to eat lots of pizzas and red meat and wasn’t a great fan of vegetables. My consultant said I would live for quite a while and probably outlive him, so at first I stuck my head in the sand and thought it couldn’t be that bad. Apart from tiredness I didn’t have any symptoms – I was working full time as a nurse and put it down to my 12-and-a-half-hour shifts.
However, the diagnosis jolted me back to reality with my alcohol intake. Deep down I knew I was drinking too much but I didn’t realise the extent to which I was damaging my liver. Seventeen years ago I lost a child at 23 weeks into pregnancy and had to go through a full labour with him. Every year around the anniversary, I would go off the rails and get through two litres of vodka a week to blot everything out. I did initially have counselling and it helped at first but as time went on, I felt I should just get on with things. Until last year it was my way of coping.
Because I’m quite a private person a lot of people don’t know what I went through, maybe I should have opened up more. My husband was pretty good at trying to stop me because he could see what it was doing to me when I couldn’t. He would give me a right lecture and wouldn’t facilitate me by taking me to the shops to buy alcohol.
I used to work on a gastroenterology ward and having looked after people who were alcohol dependent, I knew what it would do to me if I carried on. By 2022 I’d really cut my drinking down, but had an active social life and when out with friends I would have vodkas and coke. When I saw them in January 2023 I only had a couple of drinks, and then cokes for the rest of the night. They kept saying: “One won’t harm you” or “You’re fine with a couple, then have a soft drink”. I did feel a bit pressured and could have said no, but it’s easier said than done.
My doctors really wanted me to cut down on my drinking gradually, then stop. I already had a grandchild and had my lightbulb moment when two more came along and I realised I wanted to see them grow up. Once I got my head into it, it wasn’t that hard to give up and I’ve been teetotal for nearly a year. When I do go out, it’s just coke or lemonade and I haven’t really seen the friends I went out with in January 2023 since. OK, one drink might not hurt, but it could also be the one that tips you over and I don’t want to take that chance.
I also made a concerted effort to have food that isn’t high in fat. We try to avoid processed food, eat more chicken than anything else, and have red meat once a month, if that. I have lots more fruit, veg and water too. I just started serving veg up with meals and if I didn’t fancy it, I’d only have a small helping. I eat pretty much any sort of veg now and usually a big helping.
I gave away all the alcohol I got as Christmas presents because the thought of it makes me feel sick now.
Apart from the liver problem, I’m fairly healthy. I focus on my two dogs and have my routine – I get up, feed them and take them out – the youngest one needs a bit of training, so I try to do a bit of that too. I’ve also got a really good friend who I meet for lunch or tea a couple of times a week and she’s very supportive – she’ll have a soft drink the same as me because she’s not a very big drinker. My husband doesn’t really drink either, he’ll have a pint at the weekend, if that. I gave away all the alcohol I got as Christmas presents because the thought of it makes me feel sick now.
On this year’s anniversary I’m determined that it’s going to be no alcohol, and maybe I’ll talk about it with my husband rather than trying to blot everything out.
I have an ultrasound every six months and recently had an endoscopy to check for varices, but I’m all clear. My last FibroScan reading was lower too so I’m assuming that showed some sort of repair. I last saw my consultant in October 2023 and he said everything seemed as fine as it could be and he would speak to me in a year, but to get in touch if I felt I needed to.
Initially I was embarrassed to say I had cirrhosis because it used to really get me down and I don’t like anybody thinking badly of me, but it’s a major killer. Young people who get totally intoxicated have no idea what they’re doing to themselves and they don’t know how many units there are in a drink. I just wish they knew where to get help if they’ve got an alcohol problem, but it’s not easy to admit you have one.
Some of the things I saw on the gastro unit more than 20 years ago terrified me, but a few years later I didn’t think about them at all. If I could turn back time I would change everything about the alcohol and tried to find another way to cope. You think nurses know everything, but we don’t and how many are under pressure at work and then go home and drink a bottle of wine without thinking. I just try to tell people alcohol is not all it’s cracked up to be and you can enjoy life without it.