Thursday, May 28, 2009

"Other Findings"

Yesterday I had my followup appointment with my surgeon. It's been two weeks since my surgical biopsy. I was told the mass removed was not malignant ... however, there were "other findings" my doctor wanted to discuss with me. I get a crash course on how normal cells progress to cancer cells. Normal cells are uniform. Some of these uniform cells start to multiply (hyperplasia) --> cells begin to lose uniformity and take on different shapes and sizes as well as multiply and form along the lining of the duct (ayptical hyperplasia) --> they continue to multiply/progress but remain with the membrane (ductal carcinoma in situ ... this is considered cancer) --> abnormal/cancer cells break through the membrane (invasive cancer).

Yesterday I learned my cells had progressed to atypical hyperplasia. And of the grade of atypical hyperplasia it was the most severe. Essentially, I am in that very gray area. Not quite cancer but I guess bordering it. Atypical hyperplasia is considered a precancerous condition - not cancer, but a forerunner to cancer. My doctor read something on the pathology report to me (of course, it was like speaking another language to me!) ... it was concerning to her especially on top of the fact I was already high risk. The pathologists found atypical cells in one duct but was not convinced it was localized to one duct based on the way my cells appeared. I believe that's the gray area i'm in ...

So the options given to me were: a) "surveillance" -- essentially closely monitor and come back in 6 months for an MRI. At that point I would probably have additional tests and probably an additional biopsy. She said "if we're lucky, you're MRI comes out squeaky clean. I would plan for more tests though," b) hormone/drug treatment - take tamoxifen for 5 years. Side effects include blood clots, other types of cancer, plus many other non-desirable effects, c) double mastectomy!

With a smile on my face, I tell my doctor, "I'm not so sure i'm liking all my options. Don't you have something somewhere between option A and option B??" Given my choices, I pick "surveillance." She assures me that the rate of growth is slow and that 6 months is a safe time period. She tells me that the results of the MRI will tell them so much more.

My doctor tells me "You've known you were high risk for breast cancer with my mom having had both breast and colon cancer. These results confirm you are high risk." She also tells me that ayptical hyperplasia does not always progress to cancer. She also tells me if it does progress to cancer and we catch it early the prognosis is very good.

Over the course of the afternoon I realize I have a choice on how to approach the next 6 months. My doctor will contact me in 5 months to schedule the MRI. Until then, I will do everything I can to take care of myself. I can choose not to let this consume me with worry. There's something scary about knowing that there are cells inside of me that have started going haywire. The knee jerk reaction is to fight and resist all that I have no control over. The buddhist teachings I have come to embrace, tell me to welcome and accept all parts of myself, even the cells breaking out of the norm. They are doing it for a reason. This is my "wake up call" ... it's time for me to notice, slow down, pause and listen.


  1. Marilou,

    It is almost 3 am where I am and I know not why I did what I did when I decided to do a search on you. Now I am glad I did. I cannot remember how many years it has been since the last time I had such an episode. I had then found that you were participating in (seems like) all the marathons I can come across.

    But now, finding your writing leaves me little choice but to respond to a long-time acquantiance. An acquantiance because our paths crossed too briefly to account for other.

    Marilou, thank you for writing from your heart. Your sincerity to your passion leaves nothing to doubt. I know this because I cannot find any picture of you in any of the searches... just pictures and pictures of your passions and obsessions. And most of your sites are not about you. I thank God that I managed, in the billions of blogs in this world, to find this article of yours.

    One will be indeed very fortunate to find your secret room sharing the rare glimpses and yearnings from your heart and soul.

    I am glad that you have found reward in the rescue work that you do. Once, I have asked our younger participants after returning from our orphanages concerning why we are doing this work. All answered that we are going to help the orphans. I suggested to them that it is, in fact, the opposite.
    And it is.

    And, you, because of all that you do, have found it to be true.

    It may just be that, because of all that you have done, you have been given insights into the wonder of being. You deserve nothing less than to see the beauty in the leaves and to live the purpose in the forests.

    Marilou, I am at the loss of words as for how much one sentence that you wrote reflects my entire journey in this life.
    "In surrendering I find peace".

    I sincerely, and truthfully pray for your speedy return to good health, and a purposeful life befitting the beauty in your mind, body and soul.

  2. Dear "long-time acquaintance",

    I thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to share your thoughts. I don't know where or when our paths crossed ... I do know it was for a reason. Just as I may have touched you in some way with our passing whenever that was ... now you too, with your words, have touched my soul.... A reminder to me of how we are all interconnected.


  3. Great Blog!I have added you to my blogroll, Cancer Blog Links at
    Take care, dennis