Archive | July, 2011

Weedkillers, Bug Sprays and Breast Cancer (A CASE FOR EATING ORGANIC FOODS!!!)

23 Jul

The Breast Blog *7

Weedkillers, Bug Sprays and Breast Cancer 


By Cynthia Greb

July 23, 2011

I was thinking of all the friends I know who have had breast cancer.  None of them live in an industrial area.  Yes, there are other risk factors besides environmental factors, certainly, but I still wondered why there would be so many cases in the relative safety of the suburbs.

The reason?  It’s not safe here in the ‘burbs.  I’m not talking about crime, I’m talking about pollution.  We may look around and see pretty lawns and fields and gardens, but don’t be fooled. We aren’t spewing toxins into air and stream via big ugly factories, but we are spraying our fields, our lawns, and our golf courses with very toxic stuff, which as it so happens, is not healthy for women’s breast tissue (or our pets or children or elders or other living beings.)

I first read about this topic in a wonderful pamphlet in my doctor’s office called Think Pink, Live Green.  It’s put out by BreastCancer.Org, which is a wonderful non-profit organization based in Pennsylvania.  This brochure was so refreshingly honest about risk factors and suggestions, that I wasn’t surprised to learn it had been authored by a female doctor and published by a non-profit organization.

It was the first time I heard that breast tissue is actually rather sensitive to many of the toxins in our environment – but especially pesticides and herbicides called xenoestrogens, or chemicals that mimic the actions of natural estrogens.”

Consider the following:

In December the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) added estrogen to its list of known cancer-causing agents. For years, estrogen has been a suspected carcinogen, since strong epidemiological evidence associates the hormone to breast, endometrial, and uterine cancers.

Ever since reading that pamphlet, I have been ever more sensitive to what I’m seeing around me.  For instance, I literally feel pain when I drive by a certain portion of Route 313 on the way to my home.  It looks like some death machine had driven by.  There are whole sections of vegetation on the right side of the road which are burned and brown.  It is not from lack of water, it is clearly from a spray.  Plants like sumac appear to have been targeted, but whole sections of grass and bush and wildflowers were decimated along with the tree.

Every time I see evidence of roadside spraying of herbicides (which is a common practice of PennDOT and other state transportation agencies), I cringe.  Because they are sprayed roadside, they are obviously sprayed exactly where there are ditches and drains.  That means that when it rains, all of those toxins are going to wash down the drain and into our streams, into our rivers, into our bays, and into our oceans.

It boggles my mind that we could be foolish enough to think that a poison will only affect that upon which it was sprayed.  The world doesn’t work that way.  Everything truly is connected.  Those poisons may immediately and directly affect that which we are targeting, but the cumulative affect of these toxins in our waters, soil, and plants is just now beginning to be realized.

In addition, I have recently learned of a common current practice of growing crops.  And it is changing the way I feel about local farms in a most distressing way.  I used to be so grateful every time I saw a field because at least it wasn’t yet another freaking housing development.  But recently I have been noticing these “scorched earth” fields.  I learned from my friend, who learned it firsthand from a local farmer, that the current practice is to spray something like Roundup all over the entire field, killing every living thing on it, and then follow with the planting of a crop (like corn, for instance) by basically drilling a hole into the soil (with special farm equipment) and dropping in a seed with some kind of fertilizer mix.

Apparently genetically modified crops have been the norm for longer than I realized: “Roundup Ready corn, soy, and cotton have been the norm in America during this past decade and longer. The seeds are used for 90% of soy and 80% of corn plantings. Roundup is used four times that of any other herbicide.” (sic)

“There’s plenty of scientific, peer-reviewed evidence out there to indicate that eating Roundup is not a good idea. Because it’s a systemic pesticide and sprayed in high doses, produce and fruit and nut trees often take up the poison into the parts of the food we eat. That’s major cause for concern, particularly since a 2010 Argentine study found malformations in frogs and chicken embryos at doses much lower than those used in farm field spraying. The Argentine scientists found that the mutations occurred mainly in the “skull, face, midline, and developing brain and spinal cord.”

These mutations correlated with what doctors were seeing on the ground in Argentinean children who lived in areas that grew large amounts of genetically engineered Roundup Ready soy. The seeds are designed to grow into plants that can tolerate mega Roundup doses.”

In laymen’s terms, this means Roundup causes birth defects.  And many of today’s seeds (corn, soy, wheat) are genetically modified to tolerate the toxins.  That means whenever we eat GMOs – genetically modified foods, we are introducing these toxins into our bodies.  And for women – especially pregnant women and their unborn babies – this is particularly dangerous.

Another pesticide commonly used in North America – especially on corn, is Atrazine (ATR).  This is also linked to breast and other cancers because “although not directly estrogenic, ATR treatment has been shown to increase aromatase activity in tumor cell lines.” (Aromatase is an enzyme that is responsible  for a key step in the biosynthesis of estrogens.  Because estrogens also promote certain cancers and other diseases, aromatase inhibitors are frequently used to treat those diseases.)

This morning the sheer lunacy of our current farming protocol hit me hard.  We take this beautifully abundant and fertile planet, we spray it with poisons so that it becomes quite sterile, and then we use it merely as a lifeless medium in which to grow one specific crop. It sounded suddenly like this horrible futuristic sci-fi plot.  But it’s not.  Unfortunately, it’s all too real.

Compare that methodology to the practices of our ancient ancestors, who had all manner of ritual associated with the growing of crops. They realized the sacredness of the process of growing things.  They realized the power and beauty and generosity of this Earth which, quite literally, feeds us.  They gave offerings to the Earth, praying for a bountiful harvest.  Oh to return to a humble, thankful, simple, sacred way of living rather than this cancer-causing, death-wielding, mechanistic way of doing things!

For several months I had been in such gratitude about living “in the country” surrounded by such incredible natural beauty. Now I am painfully aware that I am also surrounded on two sides by fields which have received this “scorched earth” treatment.  And I’m acutely aware that something is going on in my breasts and it could very well be cancer.

The following is excerpted from an excellent and well-researched site –

“Fifteen years ago, we were still being told that breast cancer was genetic. After decades of research and billions of dollars spent, researchers have finally had to admit that only 10% of breast cancer cases have any genetic factor, and less than half of cases can be linked with other risk factors such as reproductive history and diet. The research has quietly shifted direction, with new research focused on the effect of pollution. In 2003 alone, there were 26 studies linking breast cancer with dioxins and PCB’s. According to many authorities now, including the American Cancer Society, the majority of breast cancer may actually be the result of exposure to environmental toxins like these.

The American Breast Cancer Fund released a report called: State of the Evidence 2004: What Is the Connection between the Environment and Breast Cancer?  According to the report, the rapid increase in breast cancer in recent decades has occurred at the same time as a staggering increase the number of chemicals. Nancy Evans, the editor of the report says that “compelling scientific evidence” links breast cancer with some of the 85,000 synthetic chemicals in use. The worst chemicals are plastics, pesticides, petroleum combustion, manufacturing solvents, and also personal use products such as nail polish, sunscreen, and other cosmetics.

The 2010 report from the US President’s Cancer Panel reached a similar conclusion. They warn that there is a ‘a growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer’, and claim that the effect of pollution on cancer has been until now seriously under-estimated.

Research has found that exposure to insecticides as a foetus leads to abnormal breast tissue proliferation later in life.  Early puberty is another particularly vulnerable time. This means that pregnant women and pubescent girls must take particular care to minimise their exposure.

Pesticide residues are in our water and food. Grains, coffee and tobacco are particularly heavily sprayed. Animal fat concentrates the pesticides that are found in the animal’s feed.  Growth hormone and pesticide residues are almost certainly the reason why red meat is associated with a greater risk of breast cancer. Organic meat does not carry the same risk.
Solution: Buy organic meat.

It seems we have a responsibility to raise our voices to our governmental representatives to outlaw these poisons that are clearly having a detrimental affect on ALL of us, but particularly on women and unborn babies.  But we also have the power of our consumer dollar.  Let’s start buying organic foods.  Let’s tell our grocery stores that we want more organic produce. Let’s plant our own gardens and buy from organic farmers.

To be honest, I confess I would sometimes hesitate about spending a little extra money for organic produce, however I would then remind myself that it was an easy way to support the people who were doing the right thing.  After doing the research for this blog, I am more committed than ever to eating organically and to supporting those who grow and sell organic foods.

It has been hard to write this blog.  It is hard for me to avoid going to a place of despair or anger about the widespread use of toxins in our world.  And, quite frankly, I know that anger is an appropriate response.   I believe that some of the smaller scale spraying is done in total ignorance of the ramifications, but I have no doubt that the big corporations know this is toxic stuff they are dealing with and they choose to ignore that little detail because they believe if they don’t use the stuff, it will affect their profits.  And for most big corporations, Profit is their god.  Perhaps then what we need to do is find low-cost alternatives to the healthy growing of food in huge quantities.  Perhaps we can never depend on corporations to have a conscience.  We must talk to them from a bottom-line economic point of view.

To reassure you, in the future I will try to balance out possibly depressing blogs like this one with others that talk about natural treatments, finding support, becoming empowered, and getting well.  What can we do to bring ourselves back to a state of vibrant health?  What can I do to return to a state of vibrant health?

In Limboland

23 Jul

The Breast Blog #6

July 21, 2011

In Limboland.

I used to be very good at limbo.  I have a flexible body and strong legs.  However I find I’m not so good at being in limbo.  That requires a very different set of muscles – patience muscles.  I have to exercise patience.  And faith.

It’s been two weeks since the “biopsy that wasn’t.”  Two weeks since the nodule found in my ultrasound about two months ago was not conclusively found during an attempted needle biopsy.  Two weeks since the doctor recommended instead a surgical biopsy on my left breast and a stereotactic biopsy on my right.  And nothing has happened since then.

So what is the hold-up?  Why am I stranded in this Netherland of Not Knowing and therefore unable to move forward with medical decisions?  (Here comes public confession #2.)  I am one of the 50.7 million Americans who do not have medical insurance.

I am not one of those people who have a full-time corporate job with benefits.  Nor am I married to a person with benefits.  Does my income level support a monthly bill of several hundred dollars to get privately insured?  Absolutely not.  Until this year, I’ve been an exceptionally healthy person – never a broken bone, never an overnight stay in a hospital, very few days missed from work except for a bad cold now and then.  It seemed rather ridiculous to give several hundred dollars a month to a company to get rich while I so clearly needed the money to pay my own bills.   Truthfully, if I had had to pay health insurance, there is a very good chance I would have not had enough money for food and gas.  And not eating food is certainly not healthy!  Health insurance just wasn’t an option  for me.

When I left the doctor’s office on July 7th, I was under the impression that the doctor would talk to the “powers that be” about my financial situation and see what could be arranged as far as future care.  About five days later I got a call from a woman (with a very young-sounding voice) who emailed me a link to a site so I could download a form and fill it out and submit it.  I printed it, filled it out, and drove 45 minutes to the doctor office to deliver it in person.  But after another week of waiting and hoping for something to be scheduled, I finally realized I needed to, once again, be a bit more proactive.  So two days ago I made and received about fifteen calls to the various people who help with this kind of thing.  Now I’m filling out yet another downloaded form and submitting more documents.  I am told that then we may be able to move forward.

Ayyyyyyyyy!!!!!!  This waiting is driving me crazy.  The combination of my awareness of the original three symptoms (discharge, nodule, micro-calcifications,) plus my dreams, plus my fatigue (which I acknowledge I could have for multiple reasons,) plus my intuition, plus the doctor saying, “There’s no doubt in my mind that something is going on,” (Why, oh why, did I not ask her to elaborate?!!!) all lead me to believe that something is happening which NEEDS TO BE TAKEN CARE OF!!!!!

This morning I sought some guidance.  See, I believe that although we can certainly follow our intuition and the “still, small voice” within, sometimes we may need a bit more definitive help discerning a proper course of action.  Most of us don’t hear actual words from On High saying, “Do such and such.”  Most of us do not have the same experience as Moses. Most of us can’t wait for the burning bush.  That is why I believe in the messages hidden within our dreams.  That’s why I believe in “signs and synchronicities.”  And this is why I use Oracle Cards.  I believe all of these things are ways God/our Higher Power/Spirit tries to communicate to us.  Our ancestors certainly sought messages in dreams, animal sightings, visions, etc.  We can do this, too.

There are any number of oracle card decks out there in the market right now.  There are angel cards, animal medicine cards, etc.  My current personal favorite is called: The Wisdom of Avalon.

This morning I did a 3-card spread to discern messages for the past, present, and future regarding the possibility of me having cancer.  The card for “the present” felt on the money.  It was The Lady of the Lake.  The message that accompanies her is this:

“This is not the time to second-guess.  If a signal appears, be assured that a challenge has been presented…. The message is to take care when the lady of the Lake appears, as serious business is at stake.  The Lady reminds you of your personal responsibility in shaping your reality and its consequences.  Seek the sword of truth within yourself and great success will be yours.  Have courage….”

 Okay.  It seems clear to me.  Don’t doubt my intuition.  And don’t be afraid.  I have the ability to shape the outcome.

So here is what I can do right now:  1) I can complete any paperwork they throw at me as quickly as possible.  2) I can continue to follow up with phone calls to make sure I don’t fall through any cracks.  3) I can do some natural treatments now – especially ones that are offered to me.  (A sweet friend was guided to come forward and offer me some amazing treatment gratis, from the goodness of her heart.  She has had amazing success helping others through various health challenges – including dissolving tumors.  I cannot thank her enough.)  4) I can work on getting my diet as clean as possible.  (I have two dear friends who have completed their medical treatments – chemo, radiation, etc., and are doing well.  Both have lost considerable weight.  Both have embraced diets consisting of lots of greens and organic produce, whole grains, seeds, nuts, beans, etc.  Both are urging me to be more diligent in omitting dairy, sugar, etc.) 5) Continue to get emotional support from caring, like-minded, spiritually-compatible folks.  6) Continue to send lots of love and appreciation to my breasts.  7) Use imagery to help eradicate whatever poisons or wayward cells may be within me.  (Here is the image that came to me recently.  I picture the Wicked Witch of the West after that pail of water was thrown upon her.  “I’m melting, I’m melting.”  Somehow those words, when uttered with the proper dramatic tone, make me smile.  I just have to be sure that the nodule is melting and not me!)

I also keep asking: What is the lesson here?  Why is there this delay?  Is there a reason for this delay that I’m not seeing?  Or am I being challenged to be as pro-active and assertive as possible?

So this is my story for the day, folks.  I am tired today and I will take a break here and there, and I will do my paperwork, and do a treatment, and eat some good food, and talk with a friend.

May you have a lovely day as well.

May you be blessed.

Risk Factors for Developing Breast Cancer

16 Jul

Risk Factors for  Developing Breast Cancer

by Cynthia Greb

June 28, 2011

Ever since reading my Radiology Report, I have been thinking about that “nodule is concerning based on patient’s history” part.

So I did a bit of research about what constitutes risk factors for breast cancer.  The following is an abridged summary from the website:

  • Your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you get older. About 1 out of 8 invasive breast cancers are found in women younger than 45, while about 2 out of 3 invasive breast cancers are found in women age 55 or older.
  • BRCA1 and BRCA2: The most common cause of hereditary breast cancer is an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes….  In the United States BRCA mutations are found most often in Jewish women of Ashkenazi (Eastern Europe) origin, but they can occur in any racial or ethnic group.
  • Having one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman’s risk. Having 2 first-degree relatives increases her risk about 3-fold.
  • Women with denser breast tissue (as seen on a mammogram) have more glandular tissue and less fatty tissue, and have a higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Proliferative lesions with atypia: In these conditions, there is excessive growth of cells in the ducts or lobules of the breast tissue, and the cells no longer appear normal. They have a stronger effect on breast cancer risk, raising it 4 to 5 times higher than normal.
  • Women with lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) have a 7- to 11-fold increased risk of developing cancer in either breast. (Some call this a pre-cancerous condition.)
  • Women who have had more menstrual cycles because they started menstruating at an early age (before age 12) and/or went through menopause at a later age (after age 55) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Women who, as children or young adults, had radiation therapy to the chest area as treatment for another cancer (such as Hodgkin disease or non-Hodgkin lymphoma) are at significantly increased risk for breast cancer.
  • Women who have had no children or who had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher breast cancer risk.  Some studies suggest that breast-feeding may slightly lower breast cancer risk, especially if breast-feeding is continued for 1½ to 2 years.
  • Studies have found that women using oral contraceptives (birth control pills) have a slightly greater risk of breast cancer than women who have never used them.
  • Using combined hormone therapy after menopause increases the risk of getting breast cancer. It may also increase the chances of dying from breast cancer. This increase in risk can be seen with as little as 2 years of use. Combined HT also increases the likelihood that the cancer may be found at a more advanced stage, possibly because it reduces the effectiveness of mammograms by increasing breast density.
  • The use of alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Being overweight or obese has been found to increase breast cancer risk, especially for women after menopause.
  • Evidence is growing that physical activity in the form of exercise reduces breast cancer risk. The main question is how much exercise is needed. In one study from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) as little as 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking reduced a woman’s risk by 18%. Walking 10 hours a week reduced the risk a little more.

Of the 14 listed above, I have 7 – 8 risk factors.  In addition, I would add two more risk factors based on my own research and intuition.

  • As a child, I was given Lebanon bologna sandwiches in probably 90% of the lunches I took to school.  Processed meats are most emphatically not good for us.  Like the bacon that I dearly love and have eaten too often as an adult, sodium nitrite is an incredient. Sodium nitrate/nitrite is a cancer-causing ingredient.
  • I lived in Harrisburg at the time of the Three Mile Island nuclear incident.  I was home for spring break when the accident actually happened, but I was back within a week (and nervous about it, to be honest.)

Let me address some of the above factors individually.

  1. Obviously I can do nothing about my age or the time I began menstruation or menopause.  And at this point it would not improve my risks to have a child or to breastfeed, even if I could.  (At the time of this writing, I am 53, I am still having my periods, and I have never born a child.) The American Cancer Society reports that fewer menstrual cycles improve one’s chances of avoiding breast cancer.  Obviously pregnancy, breastfeeding, and earlier menopause mean fewer menstrual cycles over the course of one’s lifetime. (Interestingly, of the ten women I can think of who have had breast cancer, four have been single and without children.  However these four have also been among the survivors.)
  2. Nor can I do anything about the fact that I may or may not have Ashkenazi Jewish ancestors.  (No one who looks at me would think I was Jewish.  Nor would my own family, in fact.  However I’ve been doing genealogical research and I have a strong suspicion that my paternal grandmother’s ancestors were Jewish.  Her parents’ surnames were Lunger and Albeck.  It is the Lunger line in particular which I have been researching.)
  3. I was on the pill for 11 years.  If I had realized it was a risk factor in developing breast cancer, I’d like to think I would have gone off it much sooner.  Especially because I badly wanted a child for most of those years.  (That’s another story.)
  4. Obviously, two factors I DID  and DO have control over are my weight and the amount of exercise I get.  I have been in remarkably wonderful health my whole life, however at the age of about 40, I began to gain weight.  I’m still trying to figure out why it began.  Certainly at one point my life became more sedentary.  And I confess I became more indulgent in my food choices.   When I did cook, I prepared lots of healthy unprocessed food, however I began to eat out more often (including, I’m embarrassed to say, at fast food places.)   In addition, for quite a while I developed an unfortunate addiction to Pepsi.  The following is no excuse, but as one who has had financial challenges for much of my life, let me tell those of you who make a decent income that it is MUCH harder for those of us with minimal income to 1) eat healthy, and 2) get exercise.  Meats and vegetables, fruits and yogurts are much more expensive than a fast food meal.  Sodas are more filling than water.  This is one reason why poorer people in this country tend to weigh more.  In addition, healthy eating often takes time.  If one is working more than one job and/or taking care of children in addition to working, there is less time and energy for cooking good meals.  (Those are not my excuses, but in this moment I am defending the poor who are overweight to those who would judge them.)  And although one can certainly walk and jog for free (and I certainly did do a fair amount of walking throughout my life), gym memberships, Pilates classes, and things like skiing and swimming all cost money.  But I certainly digress.  (This has been a pet peeve for a long time.  Forgive me for getting off on this tangent.)  For anyone reading this who is also overweight or under-exercised, please feel free to use my experience as incentive to make your own health and well-being a priority.  NOTHING produces greater health benefits than eating right and exercising often.  (Except possibly a healthy attitude.)
  5. “Nearly all processed meats are made with sodium nitrite: breakfast sausage, hot dogs, jerkies, bacon, lunch meat, and even meats in canned soup products. Yet this ingredient is a precursor to highly carcinogenic nitrosamines — potent cancer-causing chemicals that accelerate the formation and growth of cancer cells throughout the body. When consumers eat sodium nitrite in popular meat products, nitrosamines are formed in the body where they promote the growth of various cancers, including colorectal cancer and pancreatic cancer, says Adams.” “Sodium nitrite is a dangerous, cancer-causing ingredient that has no place in the human food supply,” he explains. “The USDA actually tried to ban sodium nitrite in the 1970’s, but was preempted by the meat processing industry.”*      (This makes me very angry.  The USDA saw the causal negative effects and allowed itself to be bullied by the corporate meat industry.  ARGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!)
  6. Radiation.  A couple decades ago when I was in full-throttle activist mode, I was blessed to have read about (or did I actually hear her speak?) Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D.   She is a Canadian scientist who discovered (over and over again) the link between radiation and cancer.  One study I remember hearing about included doing extensive surveys of large numbers of cancer patients and reviewing every possible factor in the patient’s history.  The one factor large numbers of them had in common was the number of x-rays they had had.  From there, she went on to research the effects of background radiation, low-level radiation, and nuclear power plants.   Check out this website to see the truly impressive list of her credentials and the multitude of articles and papers she has written in her lifetime.  This woman deserves a Nobel Prize.

Okay, I think I have answered my question about “patient’s history.”

I hope that by revealing some of my own personal choices and unfortunate habits, I can be a model for you of what NOT to do, so that the chances of you – or your daughters and granddaughters – getting breast cancer will be minimized.


Be well, dear ones.

P.S.  In my next blog entry, I will share other ways we can prevent breast cancer.  Please stay tuned for that important post!

* (Forgive me.  I don’t know how to get rid of these darn underlines and blue words.  The tool bar in this website doesn’t seem to allow me the proper options.  I’ll try to get some tech help for this in the future.)

The Breast Blog – Reading my Report

15 Jul

The Breast Blog #4

Reading my Report – An Enlightening Experience!

July 15, 2011

Dear Friends,

I had written about seven blog entries   in eight days a few weeks ago.  Then I second-guessed myself and decided  I should wait until I had a diagnosis.   Suddenly all the energy came to a stop along with this decision.  Eventually I came to realize that this decision to “put on the brakes” was not good for me.  I started feeling more depressed because I was keeping things to myself, I had stopped writing, and I was in this freakin’ waiting mode.

When I finally got clear that it was unhealthy for me to stop writing and that it was indeed important for me to publish this blog, I started feeling lighter almost immediately.  (And interestingly, I have started to lose a few pounds.)

So now I’m in this odd position of having to “catch you up” on all that has already happened.  I may be  in a different place emotionally today than when I wrote the entry, but you won’t know that unless I tell you!  So I’m telling you, right now, today, and in general, I feel pretty good.  There are days when I am more anxious, certainly, but by and large I am doing well.  Nevertheless, I feel a great need to fill you in on how I was feeling because I believe this may be important for many other women to read (as well as those who love them!)

I always thinks it helps to realize we are not alone in how we are feeling.  That no matter how dejected or scared or lonely or angry we have felt, someone else has gone through a similar experience.  It’s not a “misery loves company” thing as much as a “we’re all in this together” thing.  These are human emotions and human experiences.  Hopefully by sharing more, we realize our common humanity.

I wish you peace.  Please feel free to read on to discover what it’s like when one reads a report that one had not been privy to previously.

June 25, 2011

So I woke up feeling quite happy this morning.  After my “morning of fear” yesterday, with the help of prayers and love from Facebook friends (who didn’t yet know the reason I was asking for prayers), the relief of getting a few things done, and a sweet visit from my lover, I ended up having a lovely afternoon and evening.  The feeling stayed with me this morn as I went to join my parents, their caregiver, and my brother for breakfast.

When it was time to leave, the caregiver took Mom to the restroom and Dad wandered to the lobby and I took a moment to tell my brother what was going on with me.  As I mentioned the word “biopsies,” I started to choke up.  He gave me an uncharacteristically heartfelt, enfolding hug.  (I’m not saying his normal hugs are insincere, but they are usually much more perfunctory – a pat-on-the-back kind of hug.)

After breakfast I drove to the Radiology department to pick up copies of my mammograms and ultrasounds to bring to the appointment with the doctor I hoped would become my new doctor.  For the first time I read the reports.  Here are some highlights:

  • scattered fibroglandular densities seen throughout both breasts”  (Don’t know what that means.  Suspect it’s a common, benign kind of thing.  Will have to research.)
  • a small grouping of minimally pleomorphic calcifications in the upper-outer quadrant of the right breast”  ( I have NO idea what “pleomorphic” is.  Will definitely look that up.)
  • “Ultrasound of the retroareolar region of the left breast demonstrates a 4.5mm nodule behind the left nipple.”
  • Right breast – “Biopsy suggested.”
  • Left breast – Nodule is “also concerning based on the patient’s history.  Biopsy suggested.”  (“Also concerning” concerns me.  Patient history?  What are they talking about?  No one has said anything about being concerned based on my history.  Are they talking about the discharge?  Are they talking about the fact I’ve never had children or breastfed?  (This is apparently a risk factor.  Has anyone studied this, by the way???  What is it about not giving birth that makes the risk more likely?  Does it have to do with the hormones produced?  Does it have to do with breast feeding specifically? ))
  • “Assessment:  BIRADS 4.  Suspicious abnormality. The patient will be sent Letter B.”  (What the heck is BIRADS?  And which thing are they calling a “suspicious abnormality”?  And what the heck is “Letter B”?  How come no one talks to me about any of this stuff?  What the heck is wrong with them?  Shouldn’t I, AS THE FREAKIN’ PATIENT, be TOLD all this stuff?  Grrrrrr.)

Uh oh.   Not good news.   Already, with the first site, I have answers to two of the questions, and it is not good.  I totally guessed wrong about the “fibroglandular density.”

Breast tissue density has been found to be a strong indicator for breast cancer risk. Women with radiologically dense breasts, indicative of a large proportion of ductal and connective tissue, are at substantially higher risk of developing breast cancer than women whose breasts are radiologically lucent with a large proportion of replaced fatty tissue.

The most commonly used method for assessing and reporting breast density in mammography is the BIRADS (American College of Radiology Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System) describing four different categories: (1) entirely fat; (2) scattered fibroglandular densities; (3) heterogeneously dense; and (4) extremely dense.

Well, actually, I’m confused.  “Scattered fibroglandular densities” is supposed to be a “2.”  Am I getting a “4” therefore because they’re more worried?  And if so, I kind of would like to have heard about their concerns.

Okay, this isn’t good either.  I hadn’t been that worried about my right breast because I was told 90% of the time, microcalcifications are not cancerous.  Here is what I just found:

  • Intraductal calcifications are suspicious of malignancy and are classified as BI-RADS 4 or 5.
  • Clustered calcifications are both seen in benign and malignant disease and are of intermediate concern. (sic)
    When clusters are scattered throughout the breast, this favors a benign entity.
    A single cluster of calcification favors a malignant entity.
  • (I found 2 examples of clustered calcifications on the site with the following biopsy results.)
    • There is a cluster of amorphous and fine pleomorphic calcifications.
      These calcifications were classified as BI-RADS 4.
      A biopsy was performed and only fibrocystic changes were found.
    • These are fine pleomorphic calcifications in a cluster.
      These calcifications were classified as Bi-RADS 4.
      This proved to be DCIS.  (ductal carcinoma in situ – early stage breast cancer)
      The message is that with these calcifications you cannot tell whether they are malignant or not and they have to be biopsied.

Here is my reaction to the above:  I am SO PISSED at the doctors for not going into more detail.   Neither the radiologist nor the consulting surgeon suggested any of the above.  BOTH of them, in fact, underplayed the possibility of malignancy.  My best guess is that they are afraid to tell the patient because they are afraid the patient will get scared and emotional and either they don’t have the skills or inclination to deal with (gasp!) emotions, or they are unwilling to spend their oh-so-valuable time to offer any kind of comfort.  Therefore they evade the whole issue and give as little information as possible.

Up until reading these reports the ONLY information I’d been given was: a) a cluster of micro-calcifications in the right breast, and b) a 5mm nodule in the left breast.  Oh, and the discharge apparently did not contain blood.  I was told nothing about the density of my breast tissue and what that meant.  I was told nothing about BIRADS.  And I still have no clue what they mean by “patient’s history.”  I’ve always been blessed with good health.  What are they talking about?

If I had seen this report, I could have been doing more research!  I could have asked intelligent questions!  I probably would have been more open to the surgeon’s decision about the types of biopsies to be performed.  (The whole reason I was hesitating doing the biopsies he’d “suggested” is that I thought the chances of cancer were slim and I didn’t want to have deformed or scarred breasts and risk infection and high doses of radiation if there wasn’t a fairly decent possibility of cancer.  I didn’t want them performing these things just as a cover-your-ass kind of thing.)

I am so angry.

The weird thing is: both doctors were really nice.  If I had met either one at a cocktail party, I’d have liked them very much.

I am soooooo glad I’m changing doctors.

Also, FYI, the above was an excellent website (  Very informative.  I wish I’d seen it earlier.  On the other hand, I had little freakin’ idea of all that was going on in these breasts of mine or I probably would have seen it earlier!

I’m still angry.

Okay, I just uncovered the mystery of “Letter B.”  I assumed all the mail I’d received from the hospital was bills.  I was wrong.  One of them was, apparently, “Letter B.”

It said:

“Your recent mammogram at … Hospital showed an abnormality which requires further evaluation by your physician….  The only way to be sure the abnormality is benign (not cancer) is to speak with your physician and see if any follow-up tests are recommended by them.”

By the way, the bold emphasis was theirs, not mine.

I guess this is what they consider good communication.  Wimps.

The Breast Blog – Feeling Anxious

14 Jul

The Breast Blog #3

Feeling Anxious

July 12, 2011

Okay, I confess.  In this moment I am a bit anxious.  It is getting close to 2 months now, and I still don’t have a diagnosis.

I can go for a week at a time and be as calm as can be.  And then I’ll have an appointment, or a call to make to one of the doctors, and I’ll be nervous all over again.

I am well aware that there are a number of benign conditions that could explain my three or four symptoms (abnormalities).  I am aware that there is about an 80% chance that nothing serious is wrong.  Of course, stating the obvious, that means there’s a 20% chance that I do have cancer.

To get you up to date, here are my symptoms:

  • A dark discharge was discovered coming from my left nipple.
  • An ultrasound of my left breast showed a small nodule beneath my areola.
  • A mammogram showed a “cluster of micro-calcifications” in my right breast.
  • I feel discomfort in my left breast. (Sometimes this discomfort seems to be directly proportional to how much recent abuse my breast has gone through – ie, palpation, squeezing, etc.  But other times my left breast feels warm to the touch and my bra feels uncomfortable and it just plain “doesn’t feel right.”)

During my second-to-last doctor visit, I was informed that the nodule could be any of the following:

  • A papilloma (generally benign)
  • A fibroadenoma  (benign)
  • Cancerous (gulp)

I personally have ruled out fibroadenoma as they generally occur with younger women who eat lots of fruits and veggies, get moderate exercise, and have had several births.  If they’ve been on the pill, there is a lower incidence of fibroadenoma.  I am 53 years old, eat a fair number of veggies and fruits, don’t exercise nearly enough, have born no children, and was on the pill for quite a few years. Therefore, I seem an unlikely candidate.

A papilloma is most likely.  Apparently 40-70% of pathological nipple discharge (PND) is due to a papilloma.[1]  This is a growth which appears in a breast duct and is generally benign – unless there are “certain cellular changes”[2] – ie, atypical hyperplasia, which is doctor-speak for “an accumulation of abnormal cells.”[3]   Almost every site I researched called a papilloma benign.  I had to read carefully to get to the disclaimer “certain cellular changes” part.

Once again, for most women, the chances are good that their atypical mammograms reflect a “false positive” – ie, no cancer.  “80% of all breast lumps are not cancer.”[4]  And the Mayo Clinic states:  “Generally single papillomas are thought to be an aberration and not a disease.”[5]

I am torn here.  On the one hand, I want to document how I’m feeling.  On the other hand I want to be reassuring to women who may be reading this blog.  Please know, dear women, the odds are very, very good that you have nothing to worry about.

What concerns me specifically about my situation is that in addition to the nodule in the left breast, I have these micro-calcifications in the right breast.   “Microcalcifications are quite tiny bits of calcium, and may show up in clusters, or in patterns (like circles or lines) and are associated with extra cell activity in breast tissue. Usually the extra cell growth is not cancerous, but sometimes tight clusters of microcalcifications can indicate early breast cancer.”[6]

I was told that these are benign 80% of the time.  But again, there’s that pesky 20%.

So, I have different things going on in each breast.  Each condition has about an 80% chance of being benign.  Math is not my strong suit, but I’m guessing two 20% chances of cancer is more worrisome than one 20% chance.

To tell the truth, initially I was not overly alarmed.  There seemed to be a good chance everything was benign and I hadn’t had any premonitions or anything.  However the thing that started to worry me was when I took a solitary retreat to get clear on my next course of action.  I had taken a book with me:  She Who Dreams, by Wanda Easter Burch.  In this book she documents the pain she’d been having in her breasts and the dreams which finally took her to the doctor’s and the dreams which ultimately helped guide her in her healing.  I had been reading snippets of the book when I had a sudden memory of a few dreams in recent months  in which the word “cancer” was mentioned.

The next day I spent the whole day poring over journals from the last year.  I found many marvelous dreams, several scary dreams, and thus far, two cancer dreams.  One was especially  to the point.  A woman ally turned to me and said, “How’s your cancer, Cindy?”

Uh oh.

Deciding to Change Doctors

14 Jul

June 23, 2011 

After discovering I had “suspicious” mammograms and ultrasounds, I was referred by my primary doctor to a breast specialist. I was decidedly ambivalent about him.  He was certainly charming enough.  I liked him, was even a bit attracted to him.  But I found myself frustrated with his communication skills.  For instance, two different times I went to his office assuming I was getting my biopsies done.  Apparently, this was not on the agenda either time.

In retrospect, I guess I was terribly naïve.  But I’m a hospital novice!  (I am one of those blessed few who has never been admitted to a hospital.)  And I’m certainly a novice when it comes to breast concerns.   This is all new to me.  I wish someone somewhere along the line had explained the course of action a bit better.  All I knew was the mammograms and ultrasound showed two different concerning situations and I assumed biopsies would be the next course of action.  So why was I having repeated consultations with this supposed specialist?  Twice!  It felt wholly unnecessary.  I wasn’t really sure why I was seeing him.  What was he supposed to be doing?  It was all rather strange and confusing.

When I returned for my second appointment – having once again psyched myself up for at least one biopsy – I found out that we were again in consultation mode only.   Frustrating to say the least!  But what was worse was that he told me what he planned to do.  His plan of action was:  1) Do what is called a stereotactic biopsy* on the right breast, where “a cluster of micro-calcifications” had been found.  And 2) schedule me for the OR so that they can remove the nodule found in my left breast and then do a cannulization of the involved milk duct(s).*

It took me a few days to realize that I was pissed at him.   And even more time to figure out why I was angry and what I was going to do about it.

March 10, 2016

Now, almost five years later, I realize that these were reasonable  courses of action.  But I hated the way he presented this to me as if it was a done deal.  If he had said, “I propose we do” thus and so, I might have been more receptive.  But when he said, “This is what we’re going to do,” I got offended.  I’m an intelligent woman and I wanted to be more involved in the whole decision-making process.  And I wanted to understand more fully what was going on and whether or not there were other options.

I don’t think he fully understood that THIS WAS MY BODY we were talking about. This was all an extremely BIG DEAL!  I just wanted to feel more involved and respected.

June 23, 2011

It took me several days, plus breakfast with a friend, plus a therapy session with another friend, plus a day away “on retreat” before I got clear that I wasn’t ready to rush into these procedures and I certainly wasn’t ready to rush into them with him.

Okay, let me back up a bit to that first week of discovering that something was amiss.

I had been remarkably calm during the first visit with my primary doctor and for a large part of the following week.  But when I went for the first consultation with the breast doctor (what I foolishly thought would be a biopsy), I was suddenly freaked out.  I realized I had put all my emotions aside and focused on everything BUT the fact that I could have breast disease, could lose a breast, could need chemotherapy, etc., etc.  And all the sudden I realized, YIKES!  Perhaps I should have sat with this a bit longer.

I called a girlfriend who is a breast cancer survivor.  It was only 7:15 or so in the morning, but as she is a mother with a school-age child, I took the chance of calling.  She was perfect.  She said basically, “Most cancers are quite slow-growing, therefore there is no rush to decide anything.  It is appropriate to sit with your options and consider what is best for you.  A few days are not going to hurt you.”

This was extremely reassuring to me.  Everything had happened so fast.  From the first call to the doctor, I’d had an appointment with my primary, mammograms, an ultrasound, and two brief meetings with radiologist in five days.  And my guess is it would have been even faster except that the Memorial Day weekend fell between those appointments.

Fortunately, I had just begun (finally) to share my experience, my concerns and fears with a few friends.  On Monday, a friend highly recommended this woman who specialized in breast care.  She was noted for her willingness and ability to talk out all the options and concerns of women facing breast disease.  A couple friends recommended her very highly.  She was rather well-known.

It wasn’t until I got clear that I wanted to, at the very least, get a second opinion, that I looked her up online.  To my surprise and delight, she was a doctor!  In fact, she was a surgeon with an excellent reputation.  And here I had thought she was a counselor!  Not only that, but she was open to women pursuing any avenues which might lead to greater healing.  And she was a master Reiki practitioner as well as a doctor!  This was my kind of doctor!

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to work with Dr. DuPree and her colleagues.  This is the way healthcare should be provided.  It should be caring.  It should be clear.  It should be professional.  It should feel like a team.

I want these people on my team!!!

Welcome to the Breast Blog

14 Jul

The Breast Blog #1

By Cynthia Greb

June 29, 2011

In the summer of 2009, for some quirky unknown reason, I started taking photos of my breasts.  Actually, I suspect it had something to do with being bored, needing to rebel from the constraints of my life at that time, and needing badly to exercise some creative muscles but not having the energy for any big projects.  Whatever the reason, I took my digital camera, held it away from my body at various angles, and clicked the shutter.  Now, two years later, mammograms and ultrasounds show I have some “suspicious abnormalities” in my breasts.

Being human, when I got that news I very quickly went through the possibilities of what could happen.  Worst case scenario, of course, is I could have cancer and die.  Of course that’s a thought that enters my head; I’m human and we seem to be wired that way, don’t we?  It doesn’t matter how spiritual we are or how full of faith, there seems to be an innate fear of death in our culture and I guess at some point or another, most of us have to face that fear.  But truthfully, I don’t believe that’s my fate at this time.  I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more I’m supposed to do on the planet before I go.  So I rule that option out.  I may get cancer, but I’m not going to die for a while.  I choose to have some say in this matter and I choose to believe it’s not my time.

So the next most pressing thought is, ‘Will I lose my breasts?’  For some reason, this is a more sobering thought to me.  If I’m going to be alive, I would really like to keep my breasts.  I’m rather attached to them.  (No pun intended.)  I’m fond of them.  And I know a few other people who are as well.  (You know who you are!)

So I guess this is why I began the odd hobby of photographing my breasts.  Perhaps subconsciously I knew that I would want a record of how they used to look.

Today marks the 45th day since I first discovered a suspicious dark-colored discharge from my left nipple.  Well actually, if I’m honest, it’s probably more like the 52nd day, because after I first noticed it I promptly tucked the incident back into the corners of my subconscious.  I really did NOT want to deal with that piece of information at that time.

However, I eventually got on the stick.  I realized that no, it was not my imagination, and no, it was not a one-time only phenomenon.  I immediately called my primary doctor first thing  in the morning.  Then began a rapid succession of mammograms, ultrasounds, visits to a consulting surgeon, visits to a second surgeon for another opinion, etc.  But as of yet, no biopsy.  Sadly, it seems to have to do with finances and insurance (or rather, the lack thereof.)

Here is one thing I can’t seem to forget.  How many millions of women in this country have mammograms that suggest a possible “abnormality?”  How many millions of women have to go through this maelstrom of emotions – the fear, the uncertainty, the worry, the “what ifs?”  I ask myself:  is there anything that I can do to share information, offer suggestions and insights based upon my experience, and, most of all perhaps, educate about breast cancer prevention?

The answer is yes.  I can write this blog.

And there you have it. This is the first in a series of “conversations” about the experiences, the emotions, and the many and varied things I am learning – about the medical world, about preventive healthcare, about the ebb and flow of emotions, about emotional support, and about the spiritual lessons that can come with this experience if we’re open to them.

And to those of you out there who may be worried about your own breasts, or the breasts of someone you love, or me, may I say:  Read on, folks.  There is much to learn.

For now, I am trusting that everything is happening for a reason.  I am trying to allow my feelings to surface, while not getting overly bogged down with the nonproductive ones.  I truly do know that ultimately everything will be fine, no matter what the diagnosis turns out to be.

All is well.  (And I may freak out a bit from time to time.)

Peace to you.