My doctor reminds me of a college basketball coach. He looks like just after he excises my kidney he's got to run because his team is playing in the Final Four and he's got game tape to watch. Whenever we finish an appointment I feel like he's going to slap me on the butt and tell me to show some hustle. I imagine his operating room with lots of whistles and huddles and yelling: "Retract and show some defense out there!" He's the kind of person who makes you feel like he's in charge, he's got a plan, and he's going to win.
It was disconcerting then, when he called in early January and said they wanted to try something in interventional radiology before they did surgery. He was going to pass me to another doctor who would perform a "super select embolization" to try and shrink the tumor.
I liked the idea of "super select." A little star-warsy, marvel-comicy, super-duper magic treatment for tumors. But I did not want a new doctor. I wanted Coach Andrews. We were going all the way to the championship.
My new doctor's name was Dr. Grace.
Which turned out to be fitting in every way.
The idea was to follow my arteries like a map all the way to the kidney, and then follow the smaller paths of other arteries from there to the tumor. Once the right road to the tumor had been located, she would block it off so that the tumor would no longer have access to the blood supply. The hope was that she would be able to find the bad arteries just feeding the tumor and differentiate them from the good arteries feeding my kidneys. (Apparently all arteries sort of look alike.) Once she found the smallest and most selective branch that fed the tumor, she would block those arteries, effectively killing the tumor and sparing the good kidney tissue. I told you: Star Wars.
On the first day of February, Dr. Grace and her team performed the embolization. I had to remain semi-conscious throughout the procedure because they were adding dye and taking pictures as they traveled the artery road to my kidneys and kept giving me instructions like "Hold your breath" and "Okay, don't move." Where was I going? At the tightest artery turn, I heard them quietly strategizing. I could see the artery like a black bobby-pin, dark and curved and narrow, on the screens around me. It wasn't going to work. They were having trouble finding a way in. I heard "Try a 16. Okay, backout. Try a 20." I drifted out.
When my nurse wheeled me out he confided that at one point they almost abandoned the procedure, but somehow found a way to continue. "We got it," he whispered in my ear.
It's hard to tell in the picture above because it is an "after shot." The arteries feeding the tumor have been filled with some sort of Star-warsy-tumor-killing-gloop (official name) and so they are no longer fluorescing. The big dark paths of arteries you can see are feeding my kidney, and I marked with arrows where the dead, tumor-feeding arteries used to be. You can see just the shadow of them in the picture. But in my mind, I can still clearly see the dark outline of that restricted hairpin turn, that tiny, curving road where a miracle happened and changed the course of my life.
And I know, because I was there, that only Grace made it possible.
That, and the fact that I am an excellent road-tripper.
I saw Coach Andrews again this afternoon. "Good game, Price. I'll see you in three months and we'll take another picture of it and see where we're at. It's as good as gone."
And just like that, it's the off-season.