How did you know Olivia?
My mother is a retired public school teacher and so is Olivia's mother. They taught together for over 25 years in Santa Rosa.
Describe the day of the surgery.
We spent the night at the hospital, got up very early in the morning and were taken to be prepped for surgery. In the prep room I could hear Olivia's voice on the other side of the curtain, so we asked if we could open the curtain. We held hands as they were getting us both ready.
I went down first – we knew it was going to be about a 12-hour procedure for me, slightly less for her, and that I would start. Also, no one knew if we were actually going to go through with the transplant until they had opened me up and determined the cancer hadn't spread.
We joke that our families had it the hardest on that day because they were the ones sitting in the waiting room for 12 hours, waiting for news. First, waiting to hear whether it was even going to happen, and then that each of us were coming out and it was successful.
From the very first moment it was all great news. Everything just went as well as it could.
When did you first see Olivia after the surgery?
I was only in the intensive care unit for about 24 hours. Then I was taken to my room, which was two doors down from Olivia's. They told me it was important to get up and walk as soon as possible, so my first steps were to her room to check on her.
My first thoughts when I woke up were, "I hope she is OK. Please don't let anything happen to her." I had my issues, but as long as she was going to be OK, it was all right. So I just had to see her and make sure she was OK and she was. She looked great.
What went through your mind after the surgery?
Obviously it was a big surgery and I knew that it would be a long, slow healing process, but it was a healing process through which I would eventually be better. I was going to be well again. So I looked at every day as a gift.
How do you feel now?
Since the surgery I feel as good as I ever have. It is a miracle to me every day that that could be possible.
My perspective on life and everything in it changed dramatically. I don't think you can go through an experience like this and go back to life as usual. It really helped me see what is important in life and I know that being with my family and my loved ones is everything. I am so grateful to be here.
What was your experience like at UCSF?
Living here, I always knew that UCSF does amazing work. But having gone through the system with such a rare illness, needing such dramatic treatment and care, I gained an appreciation for the talent and dedication of the people who work there. All these people are giving so much of themselves to save other people's lives, to make a difference.
Can you explain the relationship that developed between you and Olivia after the transplant?
Olivia and I say we are "liver sisters." It's funny but true – we truly feel that we are family. I have a part of her in me. My hair grew back a little bit curly after chemo, and she likes to joke that it wasn't the chemo, it was her that gave me some curl to my hair.
We're in contact all the time. I don't know how else to explain it, but I do feel like she is a part of me, not just literally, but in that she is somebody I can't imagine not having in my life.