Pub Night with Kate Pickert: What You Missed

Today’s post was written by library student ambassador Veronica Urubio.

The latest installment of Faculty Pub Night introduced our audience to Kate Pickert’s latest publication “Radical: The Science, Culture, and History of Breast Cancer in America.”

Pickert, a professor in Loyola Marymount University’s journalism department, spoke on how her curiosity led her to finding the “real story” of breast cancer, wanting to know as much as she could and willing to leverage her journalism skills to find more on the healthcare available and her diagnosis itself. She found what any journalist would be ecstatic to find while on the job: a story far more complicated and interesting than that of which society had.

Why was the knowledge gap so large and public understanding so surface-level, given that breast cancer is so well-recognized? From celebrities speaking out about diagnoses, to breast cancer depicted in the media, the infamous pink ribbons, and even publicity garnered for “race for the cure” events, the story of breast cancer is—more generally—a story of healthcare and science. Kate Pickert—renowned journalist for Time Magazine, New York Magazine, and Outside who had tackled subjects like abortion, mindfulness, politics, federal healthcare policy, and even breast cancer mammogram screening—took on a project whose subject matter she was living.

This book came to be as Pickert vied to know the narrative behind breast cancer: why it was—and still is—so misunderstood. All of this breast cancer awareness, but no knowledge of the real story behind it: how the American healthcare system finds a lot of breast cancer diagnoses and patients; knowledge that the mortality rate is slowly decreasing; that there is a tree in the Pacific Northwest called the Pacific Yew which provides key ingredients for a chemotherapy drug that could be extracted from its bark; that more men die of breast cancer than testicular cancer; how a relatively new drug that never came to the market would have potentially been her treatment plan had she been diagnosed just a year prior—and the knowledge that her experience with breast cancer would have been vastly different in contrast to the clinical trial she feels fortunate to have been a part of.

I caught up with Sofia Acosta ’22—a junior double-major in Biology and Journalism—sometime after the event to get to know Kate Pickert better in the spirit of investigative journalism.

When asked what thoughts Sofia had on the book’s publication and her professor’s experience, she replied with “it’s amazing, the work that she did… a lot of the times you get diagnosed by a doctor and you get discouraged, [Pickert] took it as an opportunity to ask the questions that people didn’t even know needed answering!”

Furthermore, especially as a bio-journalism major,  I thought Sofia would have plenty to say about the intersectionality of science and journalism which Pickert defines in her work, which she did: “it’s necessary to make the content digestible for the public because science research and findings can be so retained due to academic writing and specialized jargon that makes it inaccessible when it’s information that should be known, like in the case of breast cancer. Because you can’t read published research papers you can’t understand, and there being an intermediary of ‘here’s the study and here’s what it’s about’ has that necessary impact.”

As a concluding thought to the question, Sofia shared with me that “connecting more to the patient is a perspective that’s needed when discussing science and prognosis in health care.”

As those who attended the event know from the Q and A portion, I asked if Sofia had known Kate Pickert would be teaching a class on science journalism and whether she had interest in taking it, which she excitedly confirmed she would be, stating, “Actually, I was asked if I would take her class during office hours, since it would be perfect for me, which it is.”

Finally, following our brief interview, Sofia shared some thoughts on Kate Pickert: “I love her and she’s so passionate, she’s really inspired me to delve deeper. It’s important that we delve into these conversations and ask as many questions as we can, and she’s doing that.”

Kate Pickert’s book, she hoped, that recorded all her findings, covered the patient experience, and considered her own memoir to cope with treatments and emotions, would be helpful for others: how we got here, how the treatment came to be, and a cliché yet powerful reminder that you are not alone.

As of today, Kate Pickert has finished treatment and mentioned she briefly thought about words like ascribing “survivor” and “cancer patient” to herself and has since claimed “I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I’m doing really well now.”

To that, Kate, we are happy to hear, and are grateful to have had you share the story of your findings at our ongoing Faculty Pub Night series.