A Brief But Spectacular take on overcoming breast cancer

After receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, healthcare journalist Kate Pickert began conducting extensive research to become more informed about her own treatment. Her book "Radical: The Science, Culture, and History of Breast Cancer in America" chronicles her findings and personal story. Tonight, she offers her Brief But Spectacular perspective on overcoming breast cancer.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    After receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, health care journalist Kate Pickert began conducting extensive research to become more informed about her own treatment.

  • Her book “Radical:

    The Science, Culture, and History of Breast Cancer in America," chronicles her findings and personal story.

    Tonight, during this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she offers her Brief But Spectacular perspective on surviving breast cancer.

    Kate Pircket, Author, "Radical: The Science, Culture, and History of Breast Cancer in America": Strangely, the day after my cancer diagnosis, I had a job interview that had been previously scheduled.

    And I remember saying to my husband I don't think there's any point going to this job interview today. And he said: "Why?"

    And I said: "Well, I'm going to die. Why would I go to this job interview?"

    And he said: "Well, maybe you won't die."

    So I went to the job interview and I nailed it. And I think it was because I was just — I felt so incredibly alive.

    When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it came as a total surprise. I was 35 years old. I was the mother to a 3-year-old daughter and my husband and I had recently moved to California. I think that, because I was a health care reporter and I was always writing about other people, this work made me feel sort of invincible.

    The period of getting my diagnosis was the most stressful period in my life. It sort of felt like the worst-case scenario kept coming true. I was constantly aware of my daughter's presence and was staring at her all the time.

    And as difficult as a treatment for breast cancer is, it was nothing, really, compared to the sort of mental toll that that first month of diagnosis took on my family and me.

    When I would tell people that I was diagnosed with cancer, a lot of people really have a strong urge to relate. They would tell me a story about someone they knew that had had cancer that had passed away. And when I talk to other people who have been recently diagnosed, I try to be a good listener.

    I try to also acknowledge how much it stinks. I think the only thing that really calmed me down was understanding my disease and understanding my treatment, having the science explained to me, reading the studies myself, because that gave me faith that the treatment would work.

    The other thing I learned very quickly after my diagnosis was how much I had misunderstood breast cancer. For all the awareness and all of the pink ribbons, there are so many things that most people know nothing about when it comes to breast cancer.

    For example, breast cancer isn't even really one disease. It's a collection of different diseases. They have different prognosis.They're treated differently. Our understanding of breast cancer was really, like — it was, like, frozen in 1995. It created this understanding that was true then, but is no longer true now.

    I would say, within like two weeks of my diagnosis, I knew I was going to write something big about this. There are parts of the book that are about me personally, and, those parts, I really had to report out just like I would be reporting on another person, which I think was both helpful mentally for myself and, I hope, allowed me to also write a pretty honest account of what it's like to be a breast cancer patient in the modern age.

    My own story with breast cancer, I hope, has ended. I finished my treatment in February 2016, and I have not seen any signs of my cancer's recurrence or continued existence since then.

    I'm sort of hesitant to call myself a cancer survivor, because we really never know if that's true. Breast cancer for myself is something I think about all the time, although less and less every day, thankfully.

    My name is Kate Pickert, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on breast cancer.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Kate Pickert, thank you so much for sharing your story.

    And you can find all you can find all of our Brief But Spectacular stories at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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