Tuesday, November 1, 2016

And then what?

It's been one week since I rang the bell.  
I was going to write here but this past week has been a blur of sleep and pain and joy.  My skin is slowly healing and I am adjusting to all medications.  Soon I will be able to walk around with no pain when I move my arm and I can't wait.

I am officially done now.  No more daily appointments of getting radiated.  No more drop offs of food.  No more feeling taken care of by medical experts.  And for that, I am happy. 

So how is it that I feel scared?  I feel a bit alone.  Not sure what I do next.  

But after I talk to my dear friend Gary, he reminds me that I take the time to heal.  He reminds me in his gentle strong way that I get back to being Lisa, the one that I was before I was diagnosed.  He's right.  I get back to being an artist, and a mother, a wife and a friend and not the full time care giver of this stupid disease.  In fact, I think that if I have learnt more than anything that I can't NOT get back to being me. 

Of course, I am different.  Cancer changes your brain, the way you think and all of that.  For me, it's clarified who my community is, and reminded me of the love they have for me and I for them.  It's also strengthened my believe in stories. 

So I ask, now what?

It's time for stories of healing, and survival.  It's time to read more stories.  To create art of these stories and to share that far and wide.  

When I started this blog it was about my cancer.  But it was also about my art and life.  Indeed.  I have shared many stories of cancer, now it's time to share my art that will help me heal from these past months.  I can't wait to share. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016


It's almost been a month since I have written.  I wanted to write, I thought a lot about writing but once I began radiation I became stuck.  

For those of you who don't know radiation happens every day.  You drive in, get your treatment and go home.  As the weeks pass your skin starts to burn and you become insanely exhausted.  And this is what happened to me.  Getting these treatments became my full time job.  

So as much as I thought about doing things and went to do things, those things didn't happen.  Art didn't happen. Writing didn't happen and even bookselling did not happen.  But what did happen was self care, reading (in the first two weeks) and reaching out to people.  

For a while I was feeling guilty about this, but then I was like, uhm, nope.  I won't let the ridiculous world of strange guilt mess me up.  I felt bad that I wasn't getting chemo.  But I came to the conclusion that this is bad too.  I also realized that comparison between these sorts of things doesn't work.  It was time I let go of all of those thoughts and just take care of myself. 

The past week has been hard, as I am dealing with some very burnt skin and pain but things have begun to come into focus for me. A lot of people talk about cancer being a battle, and generally I steer clear of the language of fighting because there is always a winner and a loser, and it's just not a way I like to look at this disease that affects so many. 

I would rather liken it to being a pirate on a ship in a big storm.  Some of the pirates are terrified and get paralyzed, Some just go right to work and do what needs to be done, and then I imagine that there are the pirates (I imagine them the old wisened pirates) who just go with the flow and realize that the storm will take us where it takes us.  

There is a tradition in cancer centres all over that after you finish a treatment you ring "the bell". On Tuesday October 25th, I will be finished the radiation treatment.  I will ring the bell at the Juravinski Centre.  Some people don't like the bell, because they say that cancer treatment is never really done, and it tempts the fates.  Personally I a big believer of marking change.  Ringing that bell will let the world know that I am done the treatment.  That the storm is over for now, and that I will take some time to get everything in order and then, slowly and surely I will begin to create, begin to go out, and begin to move forward.  I can't wait to begin the process of becoming unstuck.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Here are some thoughts and facts about my recent days. 

1. Today I finally started radiation. 

Four weeks of radiation five days a week.  It's going to be a challenge, and I might go a bit cuckoo, but I have started. 

2. I sometimes feel guilty.  

It's been a long time since I have written.  I think that I have felt stuck with my thoughts about all of this.  I have been feeling goodish, and so it felt strange to talk about being sick with cancer, because I wasn't sick.  That caused a strange feeling of guilt. I know so many others who are sicker, with more complicated situations, and who am I to complain, and so on and so forth.  

I have been reaching out to some lovely women who have gone through this, and they assure me that any stage of this disease is bad because it is cancer.  It is tough and it changes us.  And so enough with guilt. It doesn't help anyone. It just makes me paralyzed. 

3.  Soup helps.  

Two weeks ago I started a hormone blocker called Tamoxifen which blocks my estrogen.  I will be taking that for ten years.  It has many strange side effects and essentially I have been put into medical menopause - BUT - I can still get pregnant. NO FAIR!  Anyhow, as I have started feeling not so good, the one thing that helps is soup.  Simple, homemade soup. 

4. Radiation is strange. 

 I can't help think about all of the pop culture references to radiation and how it breeds sea monsters, two headed goats and other such creatures.  I also know what real radiation has done to large groups of people in Hiroshima and Chernobyl.  Horrible.  I now have to flip that thought around and make it my friend.  Weird.  Still trying to figure this one out. 

5.  Enough is enough. 

When I met with a therapist, she couldn't believe how much trauma I have been through in the past 6  years.  2 miscarriages, a dad with cancer, a baby in hospital with very serious ailments (max is much better and has a very good belly scar) , a car accident, death of my father and NOW this diagnosis of breast cancer.  Come on, world.  I am a nice person.  After this is all done,  please take a hiatus of crappy happenings for me, okay?  At least one year of greatness with no big crappy traumatic thing. I am only so strong. 

6. People really are kind and generous

I did a GoFundMe campaign over here https://www.gofundme.com/LisaPNBreastCancer.  Thanks to the great help of my friend Lori Yates (also an amazing musician!) who urged me to put it up. I was iffy about doing it, but it has really helped me and my little family feel some relief as we move through this time of treatment and healing.  People who I have known forever donated, and people who I have not seen for years, next to total strangers.  Yeesh.  My heart is full.  

7.  Sometimes cat videos will make you smile. 

There is nothing more to this.  Just that the little things matter. 

8.  Little people make everything better. 

Here is the evidence.  Me and my son Max.  My heart grows ten times bigger every time I see it. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Art Makes Me Stronger

On Friday night I found myself at the Workers Arts and Heritage Center for a concert.  The band was Sandcatchers which was described as "Jewish tradition & Maqam on the Appalachian Trail."  I wasn't sure what to expect, but i knew that it would be good, because everything that Zula presents, a local music organization is of highest quality.  This night was exceptional.  

It was a beautiful warm night, and the concert was in the backyard of the Center, which I had only ever seen through a window, never experienced. It was perfect.  The band, four lovelies musicians nestled under the trees playing such original, honest songs warmed my heart.  The audience consisted mostly of friends and my six year old son and husband.  As I sat listening, I would tilt my head back just so slightly and look at the stars.  It was rather magical indeed.  As Max started to get antsy we went behind the chairs and danced barefoot in the grass.  If felt so good to just move.  Since my surgery in July, I haven't been able to dance the way I used to, as it would cause discomfort and pain.  But on Friday night, with that music, surrounded by those people I was able to dance.  I wasn't jumping up and down, but I moved my body in it's new way and that made me so very happy. 

I have been off of work for two months now, and on Tuesday I will go back to the bookstore and I am getting ready for a craft show in September.  I am healed from the surgery and I am waiting to find out the dates for my treatments which will most probably start in October.  I am trying to get healthy and strong before the treatment knocks the wind out of me.  I am doing the usual things of eating healthier foods, doing more exercise, sleeping well and surrounding myself with positivity and love.  

The other thing I am doing is I am taking in a lot of art.  Be it this concert, or watching films, seeing dance, or reading books, I am letting myself make art a priority and be part of my healing.  Art does something nothing else does.  It relaxes me, it makes me feel and it transcends the daily grind.  It takes me away from my thoughts of sickness and cancer.  It makes me forget about chemotherapy and tamoxifen and radiation and all that. It makes me feel alive. 

Truth be told that making art has become a struggle since I was diagnosed, but I am still showing up at the table and trying to make.  Fingers crossed it will all work out, but in the meantime, I look forward to a few weeks of music, film,  theatre, dance and visual art to give me some strength to go into this unknown, scary time of treatment.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Taking Time

I haven't written in 21 days. 
That's 3 weeks.  
I have been a bit stuck, and quiet which for me is a bit rare.  

I am in limbo. 

I found out on Tuesday that my final diagnosis is Stage 1 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, ER+, PR+, HER2-. I know that is a lot of gobbeldy gook, but in the end it means that  I will be getting 4 weeks of radiation and will be put on a hormone blocker for either 5 or 10 years of my life and will have many of the effects of menopause without actually being in menopause.  For the most part, it's a good diagnosis and it hasn't spread which is very positive. 

In two weeks I will make the final decision on whether or not to do chemotherapy based on the results of a test that has been sent to California which will tell us more about the possibility of recurrence.  I am seriously hoping for good results. I don't want to do chemotherapy. 

In the mean time, I take my time to think and to live. I do what is important to me.  I create art and live as fully as I can.  

But there is one thing.  Emotionally, I am exhausted.  Being in limbo for about 2 months straight is hard.  

I am a woman who some in the business world call a Quick Start. I get a gazillion ideas daily and the ones that stick I initiate as soon as possible.   After I finish that initiative, I get another idea aand want to move onto that.  So when I was diagnosed on June 17, I thought that I would immediately start treatments. I was like hup hup - let's get this underway.   But things take time.  Tests need to be done, and treatments seriously considered.  There is no jumping into an idea quickly unless the treatment plan is clear from the get go.  And that is not my situation.  

So I learn how to take my time.  How not to freak out.  How to educate myself in a way that isn't alarming but healing.  How to deal with friends who can't deal with the diagnosis and vanish from my life.  I am taking classes at the local cancer centre and am doing a few secret projects that keep me feeling creatively inspired.  

For a few days I was feeling guilty about keeping this blog.  There are so many others in much more dire situations, and that along with others telling me how great my diagnosis is left me wondering what my problem is.  My diagnosis is positive and they oncologists feel good about finding it very early.  And just a couple of nights ago,  I realized that was stupid.  I have cancer.  It's important that I don't discredit my experience, because at the end of the day this is a horrible disease no matter what stage and I do believe that it has changed my outlook on life.  For better and for worse.  

Tomorrow is my son's 6th Birthday.  We will spend the day at the beach surrounded by our loved ones.  There is no other thing I would rather be doing.  Taking time out to celebrate his life, and soak in the lake, and enjoy our time together. 

I urge you to take the time to be with your loved ones.  Do what you want.  Take your time. Because right now, it's yours to take. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Pity Face Superhero: My Dad

Today marks 3 years since my dad passed away after an eleven  year battle with Multiple Myeloma, a form of bone cancer.  I miss him so much. I miss his advice, his wisdom, but most of all I miss his laugh.  

When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I was in Mexico working at Rio Caliente Spa.  A very special healing place. I had planned to leave early and my dad told me to stay, to get strong because it was going to be a long year ahead.  He was right.   A week later, I returned to find my dad in a ward in Peel Memorial Hospital , hooked up to chemo and chatting with all the men in the room.  His outlook was positive. He told me he wasn't going anywhere.  He said he had too much love to give his family.  He wasn't leaving anytime soon.  

My dad had been told that he live from about 3 months to a year.  He lived for 11 years with the crappiest of cancers.  He had multiple infections, a stem cell transplant, his heart stopped for 6 minutes, and he always came back.  They called him Miracle Joe at the hospital, and he left a mark on all that he met.  

To me, my father was a superhero. Not a saving the day in red and blue tights superhero.  But a man who fought for his life in a most noble and real way.  My father was a superhero at fighting this cancer.   He proved time and time again that you just needed to take care of yourself and go through this treatment and live your life the best that you could.  I know that he had wished that it would have been different, but my dad lived his life to the fullest.  

Three days before he died, I got some time to be with my father by myself.  My dad told he how proud he was of me and my brothers, how he didn't understand my life as an artist, but that he knew I was good by the way people reacted to me.  He told me to always be kind to people and to thank people.  And he told me that he would always be in my heart, watching over me and watching over my son Max who was two and a half at that time.  I left and cried in the car as we drove away, knowing that would be the last time I would have a conversation with my dad.  

Two days ago, I was at the doctors finding out the results from the sentinel node biopsy, to see if the cancer had spread.  Thankfully it hadn't.  The surgeon was so surprised that I had even found this tumour.  The lump that I had found was NOT the cancerous tumour, it was a benign mass 2 centimeters above the cancerous one.  Of course, I will still need to do radiation, and possibly chemo depending upon some other results that are coming within the next few weeks, but that's okay.  It's a relief to find that it hasn't spread.  

Late last night, I thought about all of this, and couldn't help but know that my dad was looking over me with love, and laughter.  Throughout the past two months, I have been blessed with some of the kindest love from friends and family.  

As I left the surgeon, I thanked her for her work.  She had made me feel safe, and taken care of in a very very scary situation.  She gave me hope.  I left thanking her and remembering my dad, how he would often thank doctors even when they gave him bad news.  How he would be grateful for his days, no matter how difficult.  And how he tried to laugh, even when times were super tough.  

So today, I remember my father Jose Pijuan.  

Thanks for the lessons in life, Papa Joe, I miss you so much.  Always in my heart.  

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A New Lens

Cancer is hard.  It changes the way you think about things, and it also gives you a new way to look at the world.  

In a short 6 weeks since being diagnosed it has I have learnt that: 

1. Life is truly short.  We need to make sure that we are doing what we want to do, being who we are and that we are surrounded by those we love.

2. Bullshit is not acceptable. At all. Ever. Deal with it. 

3. People are weird, and some people vanish because they don't know what to do or say and the feelings that come up are way too scary.  I wish that I too could vanish from this all, but I have no choice.  When I have talked to people candidly and openly about my diagnosis they seem so relieved.  And generous.  It's important to take the time with people, because if you can get past the fear, and connect, well, that's the best. 

4. You want to do exactly what is important to you. I want to go back to Spain to where my father came from so I can show my son.  I want to continue collecting stories. I want to grow the theatre and dance audiences in my city.  I want to make art that matters. I want to work on a project that gives cancer patients and their families an opportunity to be creative in a meaningful way while in hospital wards, doctors offices, and waiting rooms.  Getting my hands moving  has helped me so much when my father was diagnosed, and now that i am a cancer patient. These are just seeds and will most probably remain that way until after my treatments, but it's important to identify what means the most to you.  

On Thursday night, I went to one of my all time favourite dance events, Dusk Dances.  For many years it has been in Toronto and 3 years ago they brought this event to Hamilton at lovely Bayfront Park.  It's a night unlike any other.  Audience gathers to a band playing, and then a host appears (this year its' the lovely Nina Gilmour as Madame Pink Lady.)  She lets us know that we will be walking around the park to see four dance pieces.  Disclaimer: I have been a host before in 2009 in Vancouver as the fiesty Ms Lula and know many of the performers involved.  The pieces performed were stunning, so human, and so full of love.  The last piece in particular, Incandescent was excellent.  It was choreographed by Meredith Thompson and Kate Franklin and it featured over 20 community members in a modern piece that took my breathe a way.  The night I went, it was a bit cloudy and far in the distance as the dancers appeared on the horizon, we were treated to a few bolts of lightning that illuminated the sky and the dancers beautifully.  To me, the piece was about life and death, about connection with others, and love.  

As i watched it I was moved to tears.  I watched some people that I have strong connections with dance beautifully as I sat and my body hurt from last weeks surgery.  I wanted to move, I wanted to be dancing with them.  It was, for a moment, a little solo pity party, but then as I watched and thought and felt, it occured to me, that I am changed.  I was watching this piece with a very new lens.  

My new lens allows me to truly be in the moment.  It allows for me to enjoy and for me to feel deeper than I had before.  This lens shows me what is most important in life.  It has made me feel more and think less.  And right now, that is a great thing.  

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Surgery

The cancer has been removed.  They took out a lump with surrounding tissue that was about the size of a clementine.  I like the idea of removing a small orange from my body.  I am not sure why, but I like that image.  Definitely better than a golf ball, way more organic for sure.  

Yesterday when I went to Juravinski for my care I was totally overwhelmed with love for those nurses and doctors.  From Sheila, the nurse who has been working there for 35 years and will retire on Monday, to the anesthesiologist who had kind eyes and wore the hot pepper surgery cap, to Dr. Susan Reid, who was kind, funny and had a voice like Cybill Shepard, a bit raspy and so calming.  

As I went toward the operating room, I walked by surgeons who wore something that looked like bicycle helmets and was told that they deal with more intense surgeries that involved cutting bones and that the helmets were actually visors to prevent the icky stuff of bodies from getting on their faces.  Well, that just about put me over the edge and I started talking a mile a minute, and I didn't quite realize it but I was FREAKING out!   

We opened the doors to my operating room, and there were 5 or 6 women, who all surrounded me quickly and began the process of getting me prepped.  I told them that I felt like this was some sort of coven of amazing women, and that I loved them.  I was given some ativan for anxiety and the last thing I remember was a mask being put on my face. 

I awoke about 4 hours later and the first thought that came into my mind was that they had made a mistake in the surgery. 

"Uhm, excuse me? Hello? I whispered in my gravelly voice. "Am I cross eyed? I think I am cross eyed?'
"Nope.  Your eyes are just adjusting. It's something that happens after surgery." smirked the short haired nurse. 
"I really think I am cross eyed.  My son would like that.  He's five."

As I started coming to, I asked a lot of questions.  Is the cancer gone? I am alive? Can I drink some water? When can I have chocolate pudding? The bells around me would go off and I would be reminded to take deep breaths.  I drank water and continued to breathe.  

Soon enough I was wheeled from the Recovery Room to the Same Day Surgery where I was reunited with my amazing team of my mom Carmen, and my husband Dave.  We hugged, and I cried a bit, and we all felt relieved. 

I know that this surgery is a mild one for sure, but it really made me think about life.  As the mask was put over my mouth and nose, for one moment, I thought, this could be my last moment.  Who knows what could happen?  And for one brief moment, before I fell asleep, I just felt love.  A very calm and simple love.  

Wise Words from Gilda

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Books and Boobs

The house is quiet.  My son is asleep and my mother and husband have stepped out for an hour.  I am sitting on my couch surrounded by my 2 cats and a dog and I feel calm.  It's a deep calm that has only come upon me in the past 15 minutes as the house settles and everything falls asleep as the sun sets and the darkness comes. 

Tomorrow is my surgery.  I will be having a lumpectomy and a sentinel node biopsy, which in normal talk means that they will remove the tumour and 3 lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread.  I have been meditating that it hasn't, and hope for the best possible outcome.  

It's been a flurry of activity here the past few days. Friends I've known for ages, and then new ones that I have only recently connected with have been taking care of me, and bringing my little family all sorts of sustenance.  I am so grateful for this community that I am a part of.  I feel full of love, and to feel that the day before surgery, well, that feels like magic.  

A lot of my visitors have been asking how I found my lump.  It's a bit of a mystery to the doctors too, as it isn't detectable on the mammogram.  The response to that question is a bit odd.  The way I found my lump was by reading. 

I read every day.  I sometimes read a few pages.  Sometimes 5 chapters, and sometimes a whole book.  It's part of what makes me focus, an act that connects me to the human spirit, and it inspires me to live honest and true every day of my life.  Reading makes me feel less alone in the world. 

Now, when I read I drink tea. Sometimes I snack and I often touch my boobs.  It's not a sexual thing, because believe me,  after you have a baby and you breastfeed, breasts are not really sexual, they are more like comfort givers. 

The upside of reading daily, is touching your boobs daily and you know what they feel like.  So the moment that a funny little lump appeared, I knew that something was wrong.    Fast forward to today, and the doctors can not believe that I found this myself. If it weren't for the time I spend reading and poking my boobs, I would not have found this lump, and time would have passed and the lump would be much larger and things would have been much different. 

So I feel like I owe the Book Gods.  I will never stop reading.  I will always have a stack of books by my bed side.  I will always tell people to read books, and now, I will also urge them to touch their boobies as they read.  

When i was a kid there was a lot of ads about monthly breast exams.  But somehow they illustrated it in a rather creepy way.  I never liked them and I never really followed the instructions. 

So, to all of the women and men in the world, no matter what age you are, please please touch your boobs on a regular basis.  Read Books. Touch Your Boobs.  It is how i found my cancer so early. 

This time tomorrow I will be recuperating from surgery and the tumour will be out of my body.  To me, this is a thing to celebrate.  I think it will be the perfect time to start reading a new book.  

Friday, July 15, 2016

Information and Care

This morning I had an appointment at Wellwood.  Wellwood is an excellent cancer care centre in Hamilton that takes care of things other than the medical diagnostic bits. They take care of people on the whole, offering yoga, tai chi, meditation, together with support for cancer survivors, their families and caregivers.  

A few days after I was diagnosed, I starting searching for a place where I could get information. You see, I am an information junkie.  For those of you who know me personally, you know that I have worked in bookstores for over 20 years.  My house is full of books, too many books, maybe, but that's okay. Because I love books. To me, they are friends, sources of information, as well as inspirations.  I have books on lots of things.  Books for kids, books for creativity, books on books and books with information.  It's the way that I figure out what i don't know what to do.  I read, and read and read.  I look for places to go, for things to do, I look for resources.  

I was told by a handful of friends, that Wellwood had those resources and more. So off I went. 

The first time I visited I drove up to the new building on Sanatorium Rd. I sat outside and cried in my car.  I just didn't want to have cancer.  I really felt like, it just wasn't fair.  I have a 5 year old, and an amazing husband, and I have a lot of art to create. Cancer should happen to old people, not to people like me.  Of course, I know that cancer hits everyone, regardless of age, gender, religion.  This stupid horrible disease gets everyone. 

When I walked in, I was greeted by a wonderful woman.  She sat me down and talked with me.  Not about the specifics of my diagnosis, but about how I was feeling.  She told me about the center, and more than anything, she made me feel better.  She calmed me and reminded me to breathe.  At the end of our talking, I found myself sitting on the floor in their library surrounded by books.  I was in my happy place.  Books about coping, books about health and books about cancer. Of course. I signed out a few books and left feeling hopeful. 

Today's stash of books on cancer along with a pillow for my post surgery healing!

This morning I went for a reiki appointment.  I was a bit skeptical at first, because I am someone who likes hard, deep massage, not little fluffy touches. I am slightly allergic to hooky dooky new agey music, but I am aware that I need to be open to as many options as possible. When the session started my monkey mind was active and negative.  As she placed her hands on my eyes, my arms and my hands, voices in my head were telling me how this is such a waste of time.  By the end of the session, I was calmed, with visualizations of blues behind my eyes and energy flowing. On my face was a smile. 

Before I left, I went to the library.  I returned some books and took out some new titles. I talked with another one of the workers at the centre. She gave me more information, about programs and groups, and she did so in a way that wasn't scary or overwhelming.  

After I left, I was struck by the amount of care I had felt in this centre.  The kindness of those who worked and volunteered there.  I do still wonder why this cancer found me, hadn't I had enough hardship in the past few years?  But now, I realize that it isn't personal, and that even though it hits us all, that there are resources, and places, and most importantly people who can help.  

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Asking for Help

Last Sunday I had the pleasure of selling some of my work at the Hamilton Zineposium and it was amazing.  For the show we had created an ad hoc company called MamaMax which features the work of me as well as my 5 year old son Max who has been working hard on making art for his colouring book zine.  I had decided that I would turn some of the posts from this blog into a Pity Face Zine.  

Now for those who don't know, Zines are hand made magazines written by anyone who wants to create one. They often combine illustrations with words and are photocopied in black and white.   I have dreamed about making a zine for a very long time, and never quite thought that my first one would be about being diagnosed with breast cancer but I can't complain because after many years it gave me something to work with.  I made a zine. I added some illustrations and a few handwritten bits, scanned it and then my husband made it all nice on the computer and we printed them up. 

At the show, there were two types of people.  People who were clearly so not comfortable with me talking matter of factly about cancer, and those who welcomed the conversation.  Many were surprised about how well I was dealing.  Surprised that only three weeks after, I had already done so much writing and talking about it.

A lot of people have been asking me why I am being so open about this time in my life.  I think it's simple and maybe a bit selfish.  You see, I don't want to be alone with this cancer.  I don't want to feel like I have been forgotten.  I also feel strongly about processing it the way I can, through my art.   I feel like one of the powers that I have in the world is opening my mouth, and speaking to things that are often quieted.  When I was a kid, cancer was only talked about in hushed tones, referred to as the c-word.  I don't want to contribute to a culture of shame that patients of this crap disease deal with.  I am honestly too tired of whispering about this and that, tired of taboos.  

I don't claim to know a lot of things in life, but I do know that cancer touches a lot of people.  For so many of us, we have had a parent, a friend, maybe a neighbour who has been diagnosed. But because we are not accustomed to talk about these difficult situations, people feel alone.  To me that is one of the crappiest things ever.  My hope is that by talking about my story, that perhaps someone out there won't feel alone, and will feel inspired to reach out to those around them.

But here's the thing, something i mentioned in earlier posts, that for me, it's hard to ask for help.  Twice this week I had to ask  for a ride to an appointment and for some help with childcare.  It took me a few days to muster the strength to do this, but when i did, it was such a relief.  

I realized that people want to help, and sometimes they don't know exactly how to help.  So giving them a concrete thing, like, please bring me soup, hang out with my kid, can you drive me to an appointment helps them help me, which makes everyone happy.  My community has been stellar with so many people reaching out to me. Even writing this makes me a bit mushy.  

Today I got a radioactive seed placed inside my tumour.  They used a geiger counter to make sure it was placed correctly.  It was very weird.  My friend Tor drove me to the appointment, and then, Karen picked up Max afterschool and hung out with him till dinner time after I had a nap. 

These days I am tired.  More emotionally than anything else.  The waiting is the worst.  In one week I will have surgery to remove this tumour, and we will be able to move on to treatment.  I will find out what I need more and more of as each day passes, and that will be welcome.  Wading in the unknown is tough, and knowledge is helpful, for me and my dear ones.  In the mean time, I continue to live out loud dear friends.  It's the only thing I know how to do REALLY well ;-)  

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Pity Face Party #1! Lovely Lady Lump with Lana Schwarcz

Welcome to our first Pity Face Party! Think about these parties as a celebration of the women who live out loud with this crappy disease. These will be posts that focus on artists who have continued to create during and after a breast cancer diagnosis. Sometimes it will be a performance, or an exhibit, and sometimes an interview like this one that features Lana Schwarcz, a stand up comic, theatre maker and puppeteer from Australia who will be performing her one woman show Lovely Lady Lump at The Staircase Cafe Theatre this weekend!

In 2014, Lana was diagnosed with breast cancer. So she went and wrote some jokes.

"Let me start by telling you I'm ok. I'm just in a small situation involving a pesky cancer tumour in my left nork, but I'm not dying and I'm the luckiest person in the entire world. Cos f*ck cancer, man. F*ck cancer."

Jokes, truths, and one of two poignant bits from a Melbourne comic who survived breast cancer.  


Tell us about your work as an artist.  
I am a stand up comic, theatre maker and puppeteer. 

Did you create during your cancer treatment? Did this show begin during that time or after treatment was done?

Creatively, I wrote jokes to do on comedy stages and performed during treatment - they were well received - in terms of punching up, well, everyone wants to make cancer the butt of the joke so there's no problem there. I was also writing a blog to keep folk informed and I inserted jokes wherever I could to make it fun and interesting to read. I also did radiation in the morning, came home and napped in the afternoon, and then performed in someone else's show in the evening so I didn't have the stress of producing my own show at that time, but still felt like I was working. 

What was the most challenging part of creating this show?

The most challenging part of making the show was ensuring that women who had been through chemo and/or had mastectomies felt comfortable seeing my experience of a lucky early diagnosis and didn't feel jealous or bad that I had kept my breasts and they hadn't. That was SO important to me - the show is about the thoughts you go through with diagnosis and addressing the fears of not knowing and the industry that surrounds it - it's also about my own story that hopefully will get everyone to an early screening. So making sure that women with more advanced cancer diagnoses were OK and not triggered by what I was doing was SUPER important. I love having survivors in the audience. I see them nodding their heads along and I know I am saying what needs to be said for all of us.

Advice for any of us artists who have recently been diagnosed with cancer and how we can continue being creative?

Advice to artists creating during this time - the creative process can be really stressful - producing your own work? Yeah. So I say stay in the game for your own mental health - it's really important. For me it was about being involved in someone else's show so I didn't have that stress of production.

Keep doing what you need to do. But take a break if you need to. Everyone is different.

Noting your experiences is really important. I wrote the show based on the blog much later - and going over the blog when I wrote the show I had forgotten so much. So diarise things and you can draw on them later.


Today it sunk in.
I have breast cancer.

I mean, sure, I was diagnosed about three weeks ago, but it wasn't until today when I was at the McMaster Pre Op Clinic that it became real.

The nurse looked at me and said, "Okay, so,  your surgery will take about an hour and a half, and you will be here for 3 to 5 hours afterward." When she explained how it would all happen, she gave me a "Great info package for breast cancer to take home and read." I burst into tears.

You see, in my life, I have been around a lot of cancer.   My dad had thyroid cancer when I was a teenager, and I remember being told that it was one of the "best" cancers to have.  I will never forget walking into my parents room to find my dad crying, with my Mom, because he was so scared.  My father was not someone who cried.  He was a loud, strong Spanish man.  He was a bit strict and I didn't see him cry much, so this left a big imprint on me.  After surgery and some radioactive iodine, he assured me that he was fine.

And then, about 13 years later, he was diagnosed with Multple Myeloma, a cancer of the bones, and he was given 3 months to live.  When he was told of his diagnosis he banged his strong fist on the table and loudly stated that he "Wasn't going anywhere...I have too much love to give!"  My father lived for 11 years with this horrible disease, and he was strong, full of love and life, until of course, he wasn't.  He passed away on August 10, 2013 and I miss him and think of him every day.

But here's the thing, I used to be one of my Dad's caregivers.  My mom and I would hang out with him at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, taking notes, making him laugh, listening to the doctors and just being with someone that we loved a lot.  

As time went on, and I grew older, a few friends were diagnosed with different cancers, and I tried to help them out as much as I could.  You see, I am good at taking care of people.  And I like to take care of them. I imagined taking care of my loved ones, and being the caregiver for a very long time. 

It never occurred to me that I would be the person who needed help.  And right now, I am okay, but on July 21st, things will change.  After a lumpectomy and a sentinel node biopsy where they remove 3 lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread, we wait to find out what happens next. (Fingers and toes crossed that it hasn't.)

During that time, I will need help.  And it honestly flips me out.

Today when i was getting my blood taken, I could almost hear my dad's voice.  He used to say that I took after my grandmother, his mother, in that I had no visible veins.  I was a challenge to nurses everywhere.  I remember him telling me that he hoped that I would never have to be in a similar position as he was, with cancer, a pincushion for nurses and doctors.  But here I am.  And I am freaked out, and so scared, but ready to move forward and make change in my body.  It's time to ask cancer to move on, get out, and leave me alone.

I sit here, with a bruised arm, two cats on one side of me, a dog by my feet, knowing that this time, I will be the patient.  This time round, I am the person with cancer. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Puppy In a Pound

Since I have started this blog I have been asked numerous times about the title Pity Face. Some people immediately get it, while others are concerned that I am being mean, and that my sarcasm will push people away.  

As someone who has experienced a lot of challenges in my life, I have occasionally been looked upon by friends, family and strangers with a very specific sort of look.  It's a head tilted, sad eyed, pouty lips look and it is often accompanied with a whimper or no words at all.  This my friends is what I call Pity Face.  

So when I was diagnosed two weeks ago, almost immediately I became the recipient of Pity Face many many times.  And I became angry, tired and snarky with that face. My response to those feelings was this blog.  

I do understand that people are sad, and concerned, and that they don't know what to say about such a scary thing as cancer.  I get that.  But when someone looks at me like I am a puppy in a pound and says nothing, I don't get that.  Pity Face is not a look that you should EVER give a person. A puppy in a pound? Sure. A kitten with a bad paw? Sure! But NEVER a person. I am in a shitty situation.  Yes, cancer SUCKS and YES! Why me?  BUT I am not cancer, I am still alive, and I will get through this scary time as Lisa.  The slightly altered but still same fiesty, live out loud, often happy, easy to tear up, no BS mama bear that I have always been.  

One woman looked at me and said "Oh my goodness! Cancer is so horrible, I can't imagine what I would do?", followed by a 10 second pity face stare!  And to her and others like her, I respond with a smile and say "Hey! Be happy! You don't need to imagine that, because you don't have cancer!"

Another person just tilted her head and made slumphy sounds and then walked away.  Huh? What was that?

So, friends.  Here is the deal.  If you don't want be the jerk who gives Pity Face, just remember that making me feel like there is no chance to get better, that i am to be pitied and shamed, that what i have is inconsolable is really crappy.  

Instead, simply say something.  Anything.  An "I am so sorry" followed by "I don't know what to say" works.  Don't be afraid of hugging me for real.  Ask me how I am.  I know that your face might still be sad and pouty and a bit lost, and that is okay if coupled with words that express care.

The world that we live in is sometimes a scary place, and stepping into the unknown is extra scary.  But please realize that seeing pity face after pity face is honestly depressing.  Pity Face makes me feel weak, and full of fear.  Pity Face is no good for anyone. 

The week before I was diagnosed, the lady from the local flower shop, someone i know only a little bit,  found out that I had had a biopsy.  I was about to perform a piece from my one woman show, and I was feeling unfocused and  shaky.  She came backstage, saw me, and hugged me in that safe, warm way that makes you feel like all will be good.  She looked me in the eye and said, "I have been through this, and you will get through it too."  And then she walked away. I did my show, and I felt good.  Supported and hopeful.  

So next time you meet someone who is dealing with crappy situation, please remember that saying nothing does nothing, but simply, honestly, asking them how they are, how they feel, that you don't know what to say, will be a welcome welcome change from the dreaded stupid Pity Face. 


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Early Morning

I seem to wake everyday between 3:30 and 4:00 am.

It's the time of day where everything is quiet. 

For the first few minutes I am at peace, and as i begin to wake up and remember my situation my brain starts racing. 

And Breathe. 

It goes from thought to thought.  Some of my thoughts this morning look like this: 

Never in my life did I think that I would have cancer.  
I have been around those with cancer.  I helped my father when he was sick with multiple myeloma.  Been a support for some of my dearest friends.  You see, I am good at taking care of others.  I am not good at being taken care of.  

I think about the language of cancer. Of the battle, of how we are going to kick it in the ass.  And how I feel confused about that language within my own body.  

I think about this slow growing tumour.  Sometimes I feel it, and I wish it was out of my body, not in it.   

I think about my dad a lot.  About how wrecked he would be if he were here.  But also about how much I miss him.  I remember the time i had my wisdom teeth out and how he made me chicken noodle soup.  

And i think about how strong people say that I am.  But none of this feels strong. It feels scary. It feels overwhelming. 

I try to stay positive. I listen to the sounds outside my window.  The birds begin chirping.  At first it's just one bird, and then they all start to chime in, as if it's their daily song to wake up to.  And then they start to quiet, the same way my brain does. 

My thoughts begin to slow down.  

I breathe. 
and I close my eyes. 
And try to find peace from these early morning thoughts. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Breathing Deeply

So, on Friday I had my first appointment with the Juravinski team. 

I was trying to keep myself busy before the appointment but it was proving to be a challenge. I have, in the past, been described as a "totally positive hyperactive over achiever" and in my work as a curator of events, a bookseller and an artist it has served me well. But in these days of waiting, I wish my mile a minute brain would just chill the heck out.  

The past three months prior to this diagnosis I started meditating. And the past few days these new ways of focusing have helped me quite a bit. 

When we walked into the clinic, I could barely breathe. You see, my mile a minute brain had convinced me that I was about to hear the worst diagnosis ever. Thankfully it was quite the opposite.

I have Stage 0 Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. I will have a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Of course after the surgery they do more tests to see that nothing has changed. If it has, we come up with another plan. 

According to my doctor, if you do have breast cancer, this is the best breast cancer to have. 

It's my 11th wedding anniversary today and we are at a cottage in Port Dover. I know that the coming months will be difficult, but for the next few weeks until the treatment begins, I plan to take care of myself emotionally and physically. I plan to see those I love dearly. I am going to eat healthy food. Tonight as I watch the stars above, for the first time in weeks I am breathing deeply.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Living Out Loud

I am a public person.  

I tell people stuff.  Lots of stuff, and even a bunch of stuff that might be pretty personal. 

I find it helpful to tell my stories out loud.  I know that this isn't everyone's way of dealing with serious matters like loss and sickness, but in my experience it is the only way to go.  I have the ability to be a big mouth girl and with that ability I find connections with others and it makes me feel less alone. 

I found out about my diagnosis at 5 pm on Friday.  By 5:30, I had a small army of friends and family texting, calling and sending messages any way they could.  By 6:00 I was reassured by many that I would be taken care of.  That I would not be alone.  That my family would be held up by my community during these difficult times.  

The next morning we decided to go to our favourite spot at the Hamilton Farmer's Market, pokeh.  We saw friends, ate yummy healthy food and picked up groceries from local farmers.  

As we drove towards the house, my phone dinged.  One of my dearest friends,  Dov had driven in from Toronto and was at the house waiting for me.  I was excited to see him and as we pulled up saw that he had brought me a whole bunch of balloons.  I believe there was 18 teal and purple balloons on my front porch.  Balloons! For my cancer diagnosis.  How amazing! I thought he had delivered them.  Nope, he said he wish he had. Turns out that was the brilliant work of Roisin and Ted. 

An hour later Margaret dropped of rhubarb cake. 

And later that afternoon,  Gary and Beth came by with flowers and an invite to dinner. Maybe even a bit of a demand to come for dinner. A gentle demand, of course, and one that I was so grateful for. 

As I went upstairs to change I was overcome with tears.  It wasn't a sadness per se, but more of an overwhelm of kindness and a deep deep gratitude.  Some of the people who showed up I have known for 20 years, others for only a year.  I was struck by how a community rallies when you need it.  

I know that not everyone will be able to deal with this diagnosis, this discussion and with me during this time.  I know that some people feel better saying nothing and not going into unknown uncomfortable territory.  And I don't judge people for it.  But for those willing to reach out and to take action, whether a text, or a facebook message, a balloon, a visit or a piece of cake, I thank you. 

I think that the next chapter of my life is going to be hard.  Very hard.  But with the help and love and support of this amazing community of people, I believe that I will be okay.  

One of my favourite quotes is the of french author Emile Zola, "If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.

Live out loud indeed.