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Chat transcript: Jennifer Pike on surviving breast cancer

October 5, 1999
Web posted at: 11:28 a.m. EST (1528 GMT)

(CNN) -- The following is an edited transcript of a chat with Jennifer Pike, author of "A Safe Place: A Journal for Women with Breast Cancer." Pike joined us from Vancouver, Canada, on October 1, the beginning of breast cancer awareness month. provided a typist.

Chat Moderator: Welcome, Jennifer Pike! Thank you for joining us.

Jennifer Pike: Hi. Thanks for inviting me.

Chat Moderator: Tell us about your experience in dealing with breast cancer.

Jennifer Pike: I was diagnosed in 1993, and discovered along the way that the care and feeding of my mind was just as important as what the doctors were doing for my body. Getting breast cancer was not exactly a load of fun, and I had to find ways of dealing with it. Writing a journal was one way that I found.

Chat Moderator: How is your health today?

Jennifer Pike: Well, it's almost exactly six years since my treatment finished, and my fingers are crossed that I'm still OK!

Chat Moderator: Were you a writer, or a journal writer before you started recording your experience with cancer?

Jennifer Pike: I had been a journalist before I became a bookseller, but I didn't keep a personal journal. I started keeping a journal the day after I was diagnosed. I needed to offload on something other than my friends.

Chat Moderator: Is the book "A Safe Place" a copy of your own journal?

Jennifer Pike: No, although it contains some quotations from my own journal. I interviewed a number of other women for the book, in order to get as many experiences as possible to make the book more useful. I'm in Vancouver, Canada.

Chat Moderator: How did you get the book published?

Jennifer Pike: Chronicle Books in San Francisco bought the U.S. rights, and it's being published in the United States right now.

Chat Moderator: How can the book help women?

Jennifer Pike: The book contains practical medical information, although I'm not a doctor -- I talked to doctors, surgeons, psychiatrists, nurses etc. -- plus, it encourages women to start writing about their own experiences in therapeutic way. It also contains quotations from the other women I interviewed who had different experiences from mine, so there's something for everyone to identify with.

Chat Moderator: What feedback have you heard from readers?

Jennifer Pike: I've had wonderful feedback. One woman told me she didn't think she could have gotten through her ordeal without the book. Others have told me it was like having a friend beside them.

Question from Mags: It seems there are so many books on cancers out there, what prompted you to write a book? And what sets it apart from other books on cancer?

Jennifer Pike: I received a lot of help from some wonderful people when I was diagnosed and as I went through treatment, and it seemed to me the best way of thanking them was to write something that could help a whole lot more people. I think my book is different in that it talks about the feelings around cancer, and encourages women to write down their own feelings. Virginia Woolf once said that writing her diaries helped to bring order out of chaos, and that was certainly my experience.

Chat Moderator: Are you still keeping a journal?

Jennifer Pike: No, I don't keep a journal any more, although I've been using Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way" to make me write stream-of-consciousness sometimes.

Question from Philo: I've always wanted to write a journal, but I never know what to put in it.

Jennifer Pike: My suggestion would be to read Julia Cameron's book. It doesn't matter what you put in it.

Question from Bocefus: Ms. Pike, I am not versed on your situation, did you have surgery or radiation?

Jennifer Pike: I had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Question from Bocefus: Wow, Ms. Pike, you went the whole nine yards. Which was most difficult?

Jennifer Pike: Chemotherapy was easily the worst. I had quite a bad reaction to it and lost a lot of weight.

Chat Moderator: How long did you undergo chemotherapy treatments?

Jennifer Pike: I had four quite heavy-duty treatments over a three-month period.

Question from Mags: Does anyone have a GOOD reaction to chemo?

Jennifer Pike: One woman I interviewed was given a pair of "anti-nausea" socks by a friend who had had chemotherapy, and she put them on every time she had a treatment, and she had no adverse reaction. The socks were yellow with red stripes on.

Chat Moderator: What new treatments are out there for women who have survived breast cancer? Support groups?

Jennifer Pike: There's a bunch of new treatments which are still being tried out, particularly for women with metastatic breast cancer.

Chat Moderator: What are the steps to prevention of breast cancer, diet wise?

Jennifer Pike: There seem to be a number of studies showing that a low fat diet is a good idea in breast cancer prevention and that fruits and vegetables contain enzymes and vitamins which have anti-cancer properties.

Chat Moderator: What would you do differently, if you knew then what you know now?

Jennifer Pike: That's a very difficult question. I don't know that there's too much that I would have done differently, except perhaps to join a relaxation group earlier.

Question from King: Is rheumatoid arthritis a precursor to any kind of cancer?

Jennifer Pike: I'm not a doctor, but I don't think so, I've never heard of it.

Question from Candyce: Do you think breast cancer clinical trials have had a big impact on survival rates? Do you discuss them in your book?

Jennifer Pike: I don't discuss them in any detail. Clinical trials are on-going, but there doesn't seem to be much definitive result yet. You read in the newspapers one day that a clinical trial has reached one conclusion, and the next day you read in another newspaper something that says exactly the opposite. So, it's hard to know who to believe.

Chat Moderator: What areas in breast cancer research need the most improvement?

Jennifer Pike: I wish someone would find out what causes breast cancer. It seems to me that prevention is the most important thing right now. It's all very well for people to do all this genetic research, but I wish they would find out what is causing our genes to mutate.

Question from Bocefus: Ms. Pike, how has this experience changed your perceptions of life, death, and religion?

Jennifer Pike: I don't take life for granted anymore. For a while after I was diagnosed, I went around looking at the trees and looking at the flowers, and noticing the beauty of everything around me. I still do, but not as much as I did when I was diagnosed.

Question from Bocefus: Ms. Pike, what percentage of men develop breast cancer?

Jennifer Pike: I believe it's less than one per cent.

Question from Bocefus: Ms. Pike, I have survived prostate cancer, will that ever get as much attention as breast cancer?

Jennifer Pike: It's beginning to get more attention now, as people with prostate cancer are forming groups to lobby governments and health care providers to do more research into it.

Chat Moderator: What helped you the most while you were going through the treatments?

Jennifer Pike: My friends and family helped me the most. I also regularly saw a naturopath who gave me acupuncture treatments, and I saw a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine who gave me Chinese herbs to counteract the side effects of the treatments.

Question from Mags: How old were you when you were diagnosed?

Jennifer Pike: I was 47 when I was diagnosed. Younger than most women who are diagnosed. Most women, I believe, are diagnosed after the age of 50.

Chat Moderator: What herbs were you given?

Jennifer Pike: There were several different herbal mixtures I was given, and I don't remember the names. I should also say that Chinese herbs are not for everyone, that anyone considering alternative treatments should research them as well as possible.

Question from Mags: Do you have children? Does that make a difference?

Jennifer Pike: No, I don't have children, and childlessness can apparently add to the risk of getting breast cancer, as can having children later on in life. A late menopause is also a risk factor, as is a family history of breast cancer and getting an early period.

Chat Moderator: Does cancer run in your family?

Jennifer Pike: My mother's sister had breast cancer and died of it in 1984, but none of my other relatives have had breast cancer that I know about.

Question from Bocefus: Ms. Pike, all this being true, would you say that ones' attitude is a major factor in dealing with cancer?

Jennifer Pike: One of the things I found out was that people who were fighters tended to do better. The doctors and nurses I interviewed for the book told me that the patients who were "a pain in the ass" usually, but not always, had a better outcome.

Chat Moderator: How did the herbs help you?

Jennifer Pike: The Chinese herbs in the first instance calmed me down and started to boost my immune system. I knew they were doing that because I had allergies at the time I was diagnosed and two days after starting the Chinese herbs my allergies had disappeared.

Question from Bocefus: Please, Ms. Pike, where in Canada is the best treatment site? Do you have places similar to Hopkins or M.D. Anderson of Houston, Texas?

Jennifer Pike: We don't have anything quite as big as Hopkins or Houston. But we have cancer research centers in Toronto and Vancouver, and I believe, the breast tumor group is in the forefront of breast cancer research.

Chat Moderator: Any final thoughts?

Jennifer Pike: I would just tell anybody who's been diagnosed with breast cancer to take it one day at a time and try not to let fear get in the way of healing. I talked to one woman who was diagnosed 27 years ago, and it served as a good reminder that not everybody dies of cancer.

Chat Moderator: Thank you, Jennifer Pike, for joining us during breast cancer awareness month.

Jennifer Pike: Thank you very much for inviting me.

Chat Moderator: Learn more about National Breast Cancer Awareness Month at To read more about Jennifer Pike's book visit Visit for more information on breast cancer.

Men and breast cancer: Not just a woman's disease
September 30, 1999
Breast cancer survivor encourages others to heal through writing
September 28, 1999
The mammogram screening controversy: When should you start?
September 27, 1999

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Breast Cancer Action
American Cancer Society: The Breast Cancer Resource Center
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