Book buyer pens journal to aid fellow cancer patients

by Hilary Thomson

Staff writer

As senior general book buyer for the UBC Bookstore, Jennifer Pike knows you can't tell a book by its cover.

Unless you wrote it yourself.

Pike has just published her first book, A Safe Place--A Journal for Women with Breast Cancer.

Part journal, part workbook, part coping hints, the book was a cathartic experience for Pike.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993, she spent six months undergoing surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. In her book, Pike talks about living with cancer as being "in a bizarre twilight, a kind of underworld of which you were probably not conscious before."

She started writing her own journal to bring order to what she describes as emotional chaos.

"My journal was my safe place," she says.

Her publisher, Raincoast Books, aware of Pike's experience as a cancer survivor and previous work as a freelance journalist, approached her in 1995 to write the book. Pike interviewed 14 women in various stages of the disease and used quotations from some of them in the book. She also spoke to researchers, psychiatrists, cancer specialists, nurses and other health care professionals.

"It was difficult to revisit those emotions -- I felt I was done with it," she says.

She credits both the women she interviewed and the medical profession, especially medical social workers and nurses, for support in writing the book, which she completed in just four months.

Pike hopes A Safe Place will help breast cancer patients and their families in communities where resources such as support groups may not be available.

Emphasizing that it's not intended as a substitute for professional therapy, Pike says the book can serve as do-it-yourself life support, emotional first aid or a companion. It offers some medical information, hints on coping with treatment and questions designed to help women start writing in the journal about their own experiences and feelings.

The final two chapters contain a suggested reading list and a description of other resources such as cancer information services, volunteer visitor programs, videos and Internet sources.

B.C. has the third highest incidence of breast cancer in Canada. It is estimated that 2,500 women will be diagnosed this year and 540 will die.

A Safe Place- A Journal for Women with Breast Cancer is available at the UBC Bookstore and other bookstores.