Last Friday, I got a call from the interventional radiologist’s office to schedule an upcoming ablation consultation for today, as well as a call from my oncologist’s office explaining what an ablation entails. As I jotted down the message, I spelled it “oblation,” which is “a thing presented or offered to God or a god,” and synonyms that include “sacrifice” or “offering.” I pictured the radiologist plunging her hand into my body, closing her fist around it, and lifting it up victoriously with both hands like the priest of an ancient tribe making an offering.
The reality is less dramatic—slightly. The treatments sound a little bit like what is used to defeat sci-fi monsters or superhero villains, including sub-zero cold (as they used to defeat The Blob, which I just watched again for the first time since when I was five or six). There’s also intense heat or even alcohol (something, it could be argued, I’ve applied to my liver on my own). At today’s appointment, I found out that my procedure is on April 21 and the most promising route is both embolization and ablation.
According to the CT scan I had weeks ago and previous imaging, it looks as if I have one tumor that is getting increasingly large. For one tumor smaller than 3 cm, they would do an ablation, using a rod to burn out the tumor and about a 1 cm surrounding perimeter. My tumor has grown to 2.5 so it’s on the larger side.
An embolization is typically used for multiple tumors to stop the growth. It’s not really curative, but it would stop the symptoms and I could go in for touch-ups. Though the scans don’t show multiple lesions, the embolization will show any that may not have shown up. If there are multiple tumors, then they will do only the embolization.
If there is only the one tumor, then they will go ahead and do the ablation for a one-two punch and have a clear idea of where to put a thermometer at the edge of the tumor. “Like a meat thermometer?” I asked. Kind of, as it turns out, though it won’t pop up when I’m done.
After that, I spend one to two days in the hospital while they give me antibiotics to lower the risk of infection. One of the main reasons they didn’t do ablation first is because the way my digestive system was rerouted during my Whipple, I’m at a higher risk for developing an abscess, a 10 percent risk. With my gall bladder and part of my pancreas and part of my bowel taken out, there’s greater risk for bacteria to get into my liver and cause an infection. If this happens, then I’ll get a drain for a few weeks.
The best case scenario is that I have just the one tumor that can be burned out, and that might give me a break from cancer for awhile. I almost don’t dare hope for that. The odds are rarely in my favor, and I always seem to fall into the unfavorable group. I’ll find out when I wake up after the procedure what has happened.