“Am I allowed to swear?”
While not a phrase typical to discussions regarding breast cancer, it was a question that set the tone for the honest and frank discussion that the night had in store; shared between three women who have been through the highs and the many lows of the disease, all having walked away with different lessons to share.
All My Life to Live saw author and graphic artist Teva Harrison joining Canadian punk rocker turned author Bif Naked as they discussed their work, their lives, and their experiences with breast cancer. Hosted by the spirited CBC television host Lucy Van Oldenbarneveld, who herself was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in 2015, the event began with Naked presenting a slice from her book I Bificus. While the book represents the entirety of her life and the trials and hurdles of a career in musical stardom, the passage read focused on the days leading up to her diagnosis (“d-day” as some refer). The section shared the tone with Naked’s demeanour for the night: it was jovial, light hearted. Any moment where Ms. Naked’s stories ventured into darker territory were swiftly brought back up with a snappy joke or an enthusiastically sarcastic eye roll. Speaking on her time waiting for a diagnosis, and her certainty regarding her condition even before it was officially declared by doctors, Naked made herself a promise that no matter how dire the situation looked, she would never shut her mouth, and the quick witted "Bif" that she was before would hold strong throughout.
Harrison took to the stage next, projecting her artwork from her graphic memoir In Between Days on the walls behind her, while she read their accompanying essays. From discovering the real world magic found in her childhood, to her navigating the awkward waters of small talk when after she had been diagnosed, Harrison’s time on the stage was packed with an emotion that left much of the audience speechless. While Naked’s passage focused on remaining true to her off-the-wall, joke cracking self, Harrison spoke about acceptance, finding moments of calmness through her art and her husband, and re-discovering every “happy ending” that she had encountered in life.
Oldenbarneveld brought the two authors together after for a more candid discussion on their lives, their cancer, and their art. While many of the same themes of community and “taking every day as they come” held true for both women, their style and demeanour contrasted each other in a way that complimented the theme of the “highs and lows” of the cancer. A rock star for much of her life, Naked saw the disease almost as a blessing; a reason for her life to slow down, an anchor she could use to build friendships and sisterhoods around. She claimed she remained fearless throughout, and with a wedding coming within the next year, she saw no reason for starting to fear now. While still optimistic, Hairrison (who was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer) fully admits to the often times debilitating fear that she first felt after her diagnosis. Finding comfort in her hobbies, namely drawing and traveling, she encourages all who are going through similar circumstances to focus on what brings them the most joy. “There is a darkness available,” she says to a packed room “it’s easy to jump in if you allow it.”
Speaking to a full house whose audience consisted predominantly of women, some of whom were in differing stages of breast cancer treatment themselves, Bif Naked, Teva Harrison and Lucy Van Oldenbarneveld presented a bluntness that is often absent from conversation surrounding cancer. From giving advice as to how to treat and converse with those afflicted, to coming to terms with reality of your situation in your own way, the trio reflected an honest, heartwarming, and often times hilarious view on living with breast cancer; with extra emphasis on the living.