"You go in thinking that you are healthy, and then you come out with a diagnosis like breast cancer," said Maggie Gatjens.
Gatjens never expected she would need multiple surgeries, when doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer in 2007. But shortly after her first operation, her surgeon gave her the news.
"She told me, I have good news and bad, which one do you want first? And I told her I want the bad news first," said Gatjens.
The bad news? Doctors needed to operate a second time.
"She said well, we didn't remove all the cancer," continued Gatjens.
It happens because breast cancer tumors can be difficult to isolate, according to breast cancer surgeon Doctor Sarah Blair.
"A lot of tumors you can't see or feel," explained Doctor Blair. "While we're in the operating room, if we can't feel them it's hard to know exactly how much tissue to remove."
Doctor Blair and researchers at UCSD's Moores Cancer Center are working on a high-tech solution. They've developed an automated imaging device that quickly scans samples of breast tissue, while the patient is still in the operating room.
Microscopic images are fed into a computer program that shows doctors whether the tissue is cancerous or normal as it's being removed.
When results come back normal, doctors know they've removed all of the tumor. It's a process that used to take days of testing.
"The computer analyzes the slide, takes a picture, and gives us a result, hopefully, eventually within 20 minutes," said Doctor Blair.
"In this instance, we're using blue and green, so the more green we have the more cells we have and the more tumor cells that there are," noted Doctor Blair.
The imaging device is still at least a year away from clinical trials and too late to help Maggie. But the good news is it may one day help other cancer patients avoid repeated surgeries.
"A diagnosis doesn't kill you, so you have to continue to live," said Gatjens. "And now this technology that you're only going to remove what needs to be removed is a gift."
UCSD's Moores Cancer center is holding its annual fundraiser Saturday, May 16 on Harbor Island. The Celebrity Chefs Cook Gala kicks off 6 p.m. at the San Diego Sheraton Hotel.