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Buy it from Barnes & Noble

Breast cancer survivor encourages others to heal through writing

'A Safe Place: A Journal for Women with Breast Cancer'
By Jennifer Pike

September 28, 1999
Web posted at: 12:13 p.m. EDT (1613 GMT)

(CNN) -- Author and breast cancer survivor Jennifer Pike has written a unique book for other women with this disease.

Jennifer Pike, author of "A Safe Place: A Journal for Women with Breast Cancer," to start Breast Cancer Awareness Month Friday, 1-2 PM

Though the book does include medical information, "A Safe Place: A Journal for Women with Breast Cancer" focuses on the therapeutic value of journal writing.

Pike encourages women to start writing about their experiences, confront fears and regain peace while dealing with their illness and recovery. Her book takes a positive look at breast cancer and the personal growth that comes from battling the disease.

Published by Chronicle Books, "A Safe Place" hits bookstore shelves in October, just time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.


Excerpts: 'A Safe Place'

Taking Care of Your Mind

I came out of the abyss when I realized suddenly that although all this stuff was happening to me, I felt well and was active and alive. I felt I could manage it all and be alive if I just lived one day at a time.—Judy

The care and feeding of your mind is every bit as important as the treatment you are taking for your body. All the feelings you are having are entirely justified: cancer is a fearsome disease. Once we have been diagnosed with it we have to deal with the consequences, whether we want to or not. It is okay to let go. Crying is good therapy. And just about every woman I have talked to told me that she got through her experience of cancer by taking it one day at a time. My own choice was to see a psychologist, starting while I was having chemo, because I was being overwhelmed by my emotions and didn't want to dump all over my friends. Other women handle things quite competently and calmly on their own. There is no right way to deal with the diagnosis or treatment of cancer.

           It took me a long time to cry. I went to the relaxation class six months after surgery. The lights were down and the music started, and I was lying on a mat. They were talking about relaxing your toes and your hair follicles and all the rest of it, and the tears started running down my face. Oh, I was so embarrassed. I let go because I felt safe in that room. I felt it was right after that to cry in the quiet of the shower, and I did. I had thought that it was probably not very good for my prognosis to be crying, that you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep on going, but crying does help.—Carol

Everybody has a different mechanism for keeping their sanity. How are you doing it? Are there particular people helping you by being there when you need them, or are you coping by yourself?

One Day at a Time

If you are feeling angry and put-upon, or consumed by thoughts of cancer and treatment, or having difficulty dealing with the demands of the people around you, try to do at least one nice thing for yourself every day. It can be a tiny thing or something loud and noticeable. You are limited only by your imagination. In case your imagination is on the back burner at the moment because of all the rest of the stuff happening in your life, here are some suggestions.

Take a walk each day (it doesn't matter if you can only make it around the house or down the block), or go for a swim if you are well enough. It will do wonders for your morale.

Enjoy nature.

If you don't live with children, talk to a small child. Small children can usually remind you of the other world out there, the non-cancer one.

If you do live with children, give yourself a little break. Ask someone to sit with them while you do something for yourself. Or take your children somewhere special.

Write a letter to your child or children, a letter that can be given to them when they grow up.

If you feel you need a rest from your emotions for a while, ask your doctor for some medication. Or seek counseling.

Give yourself a goal for the end of treatment. I got through my course of treatment by planning an exotic holiday. One woman I talked to planned to renovate her kitchen. There are less expensive goals to imagine than these, of course.

Buy something brightly colored: earrings, a scarf, a flower. Then wear it.

Rent a humorous video. Laughter is the best stress-reliever.

Listen to some music you love.

If chemo has made you bald, paint your head with face paint or makeup.

Read travel brochures.

Call a friend you haven't talked to in a while. Or write a letter.

Rest for an hour on your bed without feeling guilty.

Is there something you have always wanted to do, ever since you can remember? Or is there somewhere you want to go for a special vacation? What if this were the last day of your life—how would you most like to spend it? This is not an invitation to be morbid. Just try to imagine what unfinished business you might have to complete. Would you like to tell someone how much you love them? Is there a special place you would like to visit today? Write down your ideas here. You can come back to this page on days when you need to remember that things will get better. Or you can act today on one of the things on your list.

It may be different for others, but pain is what it took to teach me to pay attention. In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only safe place for me. Each moment taken alone, was always bearable. In the exact now, we are all, always, all right. Yesterday the marriage may have ended. Tomorrow the cat may die. The phone call from the lover, for all my waiting, may not ever come, but just at the moment, just now, that's all right. I am breathing in and out. Realizing this, I began to notice each moment was not without its beauty. —Julie Cameron, The Artist's Way

Copyright 1999 by Jennifer Pike
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