Baseball has played an important role in Bernie Williams’ life since childhood, instilling the legendary baseball player’s daily practices that he still follows today to support and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The lifestyle choices that are good for you may also be good for your liver and Bernie understands that small adjustments to his daily nutrition, exercise and sleep routines in addition to his mental wellbeing may affect his liver health. Bernie pays close attention to his liver health because his mother, uncle and grandfather all experienced liver disease, so he’s seen the curveballs life can throw your way when a loved one is diagnosed. During Liver Cancer Awareness Month in October, Bernie is empowering others impacted by liver cancer to learn more about this disease and embrace healthy choices.
Liver disease refers to many types of disease affecting the liver, including, but not limited to, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), viral hepatitis (Hep-B or Hep-C) infection and cirrhosis—all of which are risk factors for liver cancer, which can be thought of as a disease within a disease. There are several other factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing liver cancer, like gender (liver cancer is more common in men than in women), ethnicity, alcohol use, metabolic syndrome and obesity.
“Liver disease is personal to me, and I’ve seen first-hand the difficulties and feelings that come with it since it has affected several people in my family,” says Williams. "Liver disease and liver cancer can also disproportionately impact communities of color. That’s why I’m passionate about supporting the One Liver to Love initiative, which aims to help provide educational resources and support services to the people living with liver cancer and their caregivers.”
One Liver to Love was developed in collaboration with Blue Faery, the Global Liver Institute (GLI), and Eisai inc. to help raise awareness about liver cancer and provide resources and advocacy support services, as well as emphasize the importance of adopting and maintaining healthy lifestyle choices to support liver health.
Reaching the Liver Cancer Community
The rate of liver cancer cases has almost tripled in the U.S. since 1980, and in 2022, an estimated 41,000 people will be newly diagnosed with the disease. Research has shown that health disparities negatively affect minority communities, and liver cancer is no exception. The disease disproportionately impacts communities of color, with the highest rates of new cases found in the Native American/Alaska Native communities.
Additionally, disparities exist in the prevalence and treatment of hepatitis B virus (Hep-B), a leading risk factor of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common form of liver cancer. Overall, African Americans have a greater risk of death from cirrhosis or liver cancer than other communities.
Dr. Mark Lewis, a medical oncologist and director of gastrointestinal oncology at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah, knows too well the impact liver cancer has on those diagnosed with this disease, as well as their loved ones.
“As an expert in the treatment and care of people with liver cancer—and a cancer survivor myself—I know it can be difficult to find educational resources to better understand your diagnosis and navigate your cancer experience,” said Dr. Lewis.
Where to Turn After a Liver Cancer Diagnosis
A diagnosis of liver cancer may be difficult to hear, which is why it’s important for newly-diagnosed patients and their caregivers to connect with their healthcare team and liver cancer community.
“After a liver cancer diagnosis, it can be challenging to know what to do next. A first step is to work with one’s healthcare team to learn about available treatment options that may be best for them,” says Dr. Lewis. “It’s not uncommon for a healthcare team to have many different experts who work together to provide patients and their families with the best possible guidance.”
It’s important to remember that liver cancer isn’t something patients have to face alone. There’s an entire community made up of friends, family, survivors, healthcare teams, caregivers and liver cancer organizations ready to lean in and support them on their journey.
The Four Bases of Liver Health
Healthcare teams can also help patients identify the diet, exercise and lifestyle choices that are right for them. To help people living with liver cancer remember the factors that impact liver health, Bernie went back to his baseball roots to encourage everyone to follow the four bases of liver health: nutrition, exercise, sleep and mental health.
“When the concept of liver health begins to feel overwhelming, it’s important to remember the four bases so that you can feel empowered to hit a ‘home run’ for liver wellness,” says Williams. “I try to keep a balanced diet and make time for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day, which helps me to sleep better at night and lower stress.”
“Keeping up with a healthy lifestyle is important,” adds Dr. Lewis. “In addition to focusing on nutrition, exercise, sleep and mental health, getting to know others who can share their experiences with liver cancer can be both comforting and informative. It’s another way to support a healthy lifestyle that I recommend to all of my patients. A caring community can bring understanding and support for liver cancer patients and their loved ones alike.”
For more information about One Liver to Love, tips on navigating and living with liver cancer, as well as advocacy and support group information for patients and caregivers, visit OneLiverToLove.com.