Doctors told Samantha Youakim she had hepatocellular carcinoma when she was 10 years old. As a result of this rare form of liver cancer, the experts told her she’d only live three more months. Keep reading to learn more about how Samantha beat the odds, and follow the original story here for additional details.
Samantha remembers finding out her diagnosis. She remembers the confusion, feeling thoroughly consumed by sickness. She was still only a child, but she asked her parents a simple, harrowing question: was she going to die?
As a child, Samantha missed out on many common experiences. She missed school and playing with other children and friends. She didn’t leave home much except for treatment. Hospitals became a sort of second home for her.
It all began in 2005 when Samantha experience frequent nausea. She became unable to leave bed, and her skin acquired a gray hue.
When her parents took Samantha to a clinic they discovered the life changing news. A series of blood tests revealed abnormally high enzyme levels in the child.
For the average liver the rating should have been about 12. Samantha’s read 54,000. With a rating this far off the charts, there was clearly something troubling going on. Exploratory surgery revealed Samantha’s liver covered in tumors.
Samantha’s situation became even more complicated when doctors suspected that the tumors affected the portal vein. The portal vein allows blood to flow to many organs in the body, including the liver. Further tests revealed a blockage did exist. If the blockage turned out to be cancer even a liver transplant wouldn’t solve the issue. As a result, Samantha found herself defined as high risk. This denied her a transplant. At the time, doctors didn’t think the operation would be worth it if they discovered that cancer was the result of the blockage.
Fortunately, Samantha had many people on her side, including he uncle, Andy Kim, the famous Canadian pop rock singer-songwriter. Kim’s friend, Sam Ciccolini, a philanthropist, was passionate about medical causes. He helped Samantha defy the odds.
One day, Samantha received an unexpected call. She learned her a liver transplant was possible. It was waiting for her at a hospital in Montreal.
Doctors performed the transplant and discovered that the blockage in Samantha’s portal vein was actually blood clot, not a tumor.
Tyrosinemia likely caused Samantha’s cancer. In tyrosinemia, the body fails to process the amino acid tyrosine. The build up of tyrosine, in Samantha’s case, led to hepatocellular carcinoma. Usually, children are checked for tyrosinemia, since it can be a fatal disease. Somehow Samantha slipped through the medical system, and was not diagnosed until the genetic disorder had already led to cancer.
Today, Samantha lives a happy normal life– she has a boyfriend and ambitions for her future. She says any regular day going to work is better than a day going to the hospital.
Samantha now works in hopes of becoming an event planner in Montreal. She envisions creating her own fundraiser in the future to help other patients. She’s passionate about supporting childhood cancer groups, and organ donation. She wants to let other people struggling with frightening diagnoses know that there is always hope, even when it doesn’t feel like it.