Bif Naked has made a career out of being a badass chick. Initially, it was by way of the late-'90s CanRock boys club, prowling Edgefest stages, infiltrating rock radio and even performing at the Hellmouth-adjacent all-ages club on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
More recently, the heavily tattooed singer has become known as a badass chick in another venue -- the B.C. Cancer Agency's Vancouver Centre, where she successfully beat breast cancer with a lumpectomy and chemo back in 2008-2009. She now returns regularly, boldly confronting her own fragile mortality to encourage those women still fighting for their lives.
On the heels of her new record, Bif Naked Forever: Acoustic Hits & Other Delights, I sat down with Bif Naked to talk about how cancer has impacted her life -- both directly, in facing possible death and losing any chance to get pregnant, and indirectly, in a divorce from the man she married just months before her diagnosis.
Needless to say, Bif Naked remains a badass chick. Forever.
I saw you in one of my mom's photos, so I think you share a cancer doctor.
Gosh, how is she today?
She had cancer five times but now she's fine, she's great.
Wonderful. So she must be estrogen receptor positive?
She has the BRCA1 gene.
See, I couldn't get tested for that, as an adopted person, unless I paid for it. Welcome to healthcare.
But wouldn't they wanna know your genetic background?
It's expensive testing -- really and truly. For me, they know that I'm estrogen receptor positive, so based on that they decided let's do an oophorectomy. So I don't have ovaries anymore, eliminating the very likely possibility that that may be a factor by continuing to give me estrogen, which would just probably make me recur more quickly.
Was that a hard decision? I know my mom probably should have gotten a mastectomy right off the bat rather than a lumpectomy.
I asked for a mastectomy, obviously, but I was like an anorexic boy on the day of my diagnosis. I had A-cups and it seemed to me, if I'm getting a lumpectomy, I had no tits, just get rid of it. It's not gonna make a difference for me. They really believed that their outcomes were neck-in-neck with full mastectomy versus lumpectomy and radiation for people in my cancer group. What are you gonna do? You're not gonna press 'em. Perhaps they should've, who knows? I just followed orders.
Maybe my mom just wasn't mentally ready at that point...
Most women aren't. I learned so much about the way we frame ourselves and our bodies as women. The way that our neighbours frame us, our husbands frame us, our kids frame us. Every facet of cancer care -- patient care, patient advocacy, peer-to-peer support as a patient and as a volunteer -- was engaging and stimulating and important to me. Not only do I love working in healthcare, I love health advocacy more than anything else. I just found it all so interesting. And it was such a testament to how women frame themselves.
My surgeon, the first thing that she said -- at the time I was married -- "Your wife has breast cancer. She will lose her hair." It was like an epiphany, because I thought, okay, this is something that this particular surgeon has encountered so many times in her practice that it is natural for her to reassure people, "Yes, this is the real cancer, with the real hair loss." Hair loss is the number one thing that people ask. Not "am I gonna die?" but "am I gonna lose my hair?" I never would've considered that. I didn't care. I shaved my hair right away as soon as I was diagnosed. I loved it. Yay, get rid of my Betty Paige haircut. I had it for 20 years.
If I was sick, once I was better, I wouldn't want to have to think about it again. But my mom has participated in support groups and advocacy ever since. Having cancer has obviously affected you in the same way.
A lot of patients do find that. The catalyst for many is a health crisis or some type of tragedy, because it shakes our tree and it shakes up our life.
Because it's all abstract until you or someone you love is affected by it.
Same with anything, whether it's animal rights or organ donation or drunk driving, you know, people do become passionate about things that they suddenly have experience in. And it's actually very inspiring for people.
The actress was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36 in 2008. One month later, after learning she had tested positive for the BRCA1 gene (also known as the breast cancer gene), she underwent a prophylactic double mastectomy, rather than opting for radiation or chemotherapy, <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=5606034&page=1#.UMj-eHPjkgs">she told ABC's Good Morning America at the time</a>. "I didn't want to go back to the doctors every four months for testing and squishing and everything. I just wanted to kind of get rid of this whole thing for me. This was the choice that I made and it was a tough one," she said <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=5606034&page=1" target="_hplink">in the interview</a>. "Sometimes, you know, I cry. And sometimes I scream. And I get really angry. And I get really upset, you know, into wallowing in self-pity sometimes. And I think that it's all part of the healing." In 2011, Applegate <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20466433,00.html">gave birth to her first child</a>, daughter Sadie. "She's healed me in so many ways," she told <em>People</em> magazine.
The MTV star was first diagnosed with stage 2 ovarian cancer in September 2005 at just 24 years old, <em>Glamour</em> reported in 2006 -- one ovary, several lymph nodes and part of one fallopian tube were removed, according to the magazine. "I had no idea why this was happening to me. I’m a healthy girl: I’m a vegetarian; I don’t smoke; I barely drink," <a href="http://www.glamour.com/health-fitness/2006/10/cancer-diary-diem-brown">she told <em>Glamour</em></a>. "I kept thinking, I have so much to do; I’m not ready to die." One month after surgery, Diem traveled to Australia for the Real World/Road Rules Challenge on MTV. Earlier this year, at age 30, Brown revealed that she is <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20603790,00.html">again battling ovarian cancer,</a> <em>People</em> reported. Over the past several months, she's been blogging about her experience for the publication (<a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20639905,00.html">check out a video of her post-chemo hair loss here</a>). She wrote in a <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20650760,00.html">recent People.com post</a>: <blockquote>A year ... If you would have told me that after I climbed an Icelandic glacier on MTV's The Challenge, I would find a cancer-filled cyst, freeze eggs, have two surgeries, start early menopause, go through chemo for a second time and film/post my chemo hair loss process make-up free and bald, I would tell you to put me back on that glacier! However, now I can look back at those seemingly overwhelming moments, happy to be where I am: Rounding out the end of this trying journey, ready to move on from my "frenemy" cancer once and for all.</blockquote>
Anthony Ryan Auld
The <a href="http://www.mylifetime.com/shows/project-runway/season-9/designers/anthony-ryan-auld">Project Runway season 9</a> contestant (and current contender on season two of Lifetime's Project Runway All Stars) was diagnosed with testicular cancer at age 25, <a href="http://www.healthline.com/health/ryan-auld-project-runway#2">Healthline.com reports</a>. He had one testicle removed and then underwent about six months of chemotherapy in early 2009. "One of the things I got from my cancer experience is to be appreciative for every day that you're given," <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2012/11/15/anthony-ryan-auld-wins-project-runway-all-stars-challenge/1707295/">Auld told <em>USA Today</em> in November</a>. "Just the little things in the day. Regardless of if you get to have 10 minutes with your grandmother for the day or you get to call your mom and say I love you. You really have to take those and enjoy them." After his first Project Runway appearance, Auld launched a nonprofit called ROCKONE1, supporting cancer patients and their support networks through fashion, whether that means going shopping together or designing a new outfit, <a href="http://www.mylifetime.com/shows/project-runway-all-stars/season-2/designers/anthony-ryan-auld">according to <em>USA Today</em></a>.
Marissa Jaret Winokur
At age 27, while auditioning for Broadway's Hairspray (which she later earned a Tony for), the actress was diagnosed with cervical cancer after a routine Pap smear, <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20009915,00.html">People.com reported</a>. A few days after diagnosis, she had part of her cervix removed -- a week later, she found out the cancer had spread, meaning she needed to have a hysterectomy. "Shortly after the second surgery, I got the part [in Hairspray]. I didn't have time to be sick -- I so wanted this part," she wrote for <em>People</em>. I repeated over and over, "I'm going to be okay." Now a married mom (via a surrogate), Winkour has had stints on "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/17/marissa-jaret-winokur-lea_n_809932.html">The Talk</a>" and "Dancing With The Stars" over the past few years. And just this past October, she unveiled a dramatic <a href="http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-11-01/news/34862111_1_sizes-cervical-cancer-thin-crowd">60-pound weight loss</a>.
In April 2009, the then 30-year-old winner of Survivor: Africa was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin's disease, <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20279566,00.html">People.com reported at the time</a>. He underwent chemotherapy and then a stem cell transplant -- 20 months after he went into remission, in September 2011, <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20541727,00.html">according to People</a>, he found out the cancer had returned in his chest. Zohn underwent "smart" chemotherapy, followed by a stem cell transplant in February 2012, <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/lymphoma/0518/ethan-zohn-im-getting-stronger-every-day.aspx">Everyday Health reports</a>. "I’m doing great,” he told the publication in May. "Maybe great isn’t the right word. I’m tired all the time, I don’t have a good appetite, I don’t have much energy, I’m weak, I’m skinny, I’m still bald ... but I’m getting stronger every day, and things are going according to plan in terms of my recovery. It’s all par for the course -- it’s just taking a little longer to get back to normal.”
At age 36, while undergoing in vitro fertilization for the third time, the E! News Host was diagnosed with breast cancer. After previous treatments were unsuccessful, she opted to have a double mastectomy in December 2011, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/05/double-mastectomy-giuliana-rancic-breast-cancer_n_1129433.html">HuffPost reported at the time</a>. "If I had chosen to just do another lumpectomy and then do radiation and then do anti-estrogen therapy, which means two to five years of medication, that basically puts me into early menopause, then I would have to put off having a baby for several years," she told TODAY! of her decision. "So that was something we took into account. But to be honest, at the end it all came down to was just choosing to live and not looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life." On Aug. 29, 2012, Rancic and husband Bill Rancic got their happy ending with the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/12/edward-duke-rancic-photo-giuliana-bill-rancic-baby-boy_n_1876694.html">birth of baby Edward Duke Rancic</a> via gestational surrogate.
At age 25, Reiser, screenwriter of the 2011 film 50/50, was experiencing strange symptoms, including weight loss, a horrible fatigue and night sweats. Convinced he was diabetic based on a Google search of his symptoms, he finally went to the doctor, who ran a series of tests. After several misdiagnoses, he was eventually properly diagnosed with a large tumor that had wrapped itself around his spine. "You've just suddenly been given the news that your body is attacking itself, your body is destroying itself from the inside," he told HuffPost Healthy Living during an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/03/dating-cancer-generation-why_n_2214749.html?utm_hp_ref=generation-why">interview for the Generation Why series</a>. "It was like this hurricane just swept through my body and left me in total disarray." Surgery successfully removed the tumor, and Reiser went on to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/30/5050-cancer-humor_n_988254.html">write 50/50</a>, which was inspired by his experience, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and real-life friend Seth Rogen.
The star of A&E's series "Paranormal State" announced he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this past August, at the age of 30, <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20619106,00.html"><em>People</em> magazine reported</a>. Keeping his fans updated on social media throughout his battle, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/RyanDBuell">he posted this message on December 11</a>: <blockquote>I know many amazing fans have been asking daily for updates on the status of my health. I can say that it has been the hardest year of my life, but I am also incredibly thankful for that. I had to put some of my dreams and goals aside to focus on myself. I'm also thankful for that. Although I feel that now is not the time to open up about it all, just know that I'm fighting the fight and I love you all!</blockquote>
Michael C. Hall
In early 2010, a spokesperson for the "Dexter" star revealed that he was undergoing treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/13/michael-c-hall-cancer-sho_n_422247.html">The Huffington Post reported</a>. "I feel fortunate to have been diagnosed with an imminently treatable and curable condition, and I thank my doctors and nurses for their expertise and care," he said in a statement at the time. At age 38, he was just a year younger than his father was when he died from prostate cancer at 39. "I think I’ve been preoccupied since I was 11, and my father died, with the idea of the age 39: Would I live that long? What would that be like?” <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/arts/television/19hall.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all&">he told <em>The New York Times</em> in 2010</a>. "To discover that I had the Hodgkin’s was alarming, but at the same time I felt kind of bemused, like: Wow. Huh. How interesting." In April 2010, his wife Jennifer Carpenter said that the actor was "fully recovered," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/23/michael-c-hall-fully-reco_n_550174.html">according to the AP</a>.
The Australian singer, now 44, was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/10/17/kylie-minogue-cancer_n_1972656.html">diagnosed with breast cancer</a> in 2005. "Everyone’s story is different. It depends what the cancer was, how it affected you, the treatment you had. There are so many variables but for a lot of people, myself included, it’s not like it happened, it was dealt with and it stops," <a href="http://metro.co.uk/2012/10/16/kylie-minogue-cancer-diagnosis-still-affects-me-but-ive-had-to-adapt-to-it-601837/">she told Metro in 2010</a>. "I have reminders of it every day so it definitely affects my life in a small part, so you just have to adapt and do things slightly differently ... just deal with it and move on."
What kind of advocacy things have you been able to do in the past few years?
I really like volunteering. I like working with patients one-on-one in palliative care. I feel there's a need for it and there's not a lot of desire for people to do it. In our culture, people don't like to talk about death, they don't want to think about death, they don't want to be around it, people are superstitious, people are very fearful. And I just think, well, I have it available to me to be present, I really wanna work in this field. Obviously right now, I'm still an artist, and I haven't figured out a way to be able to transition to it full-time. I find social media has been very helpful for me, just as an individual, one ordinary girl who has the ability to just kinda spread the word about things that I really agree with.
Have you considered getting into politics?
I really think that I should probably have a political science degree to do that.
Do any of them have political science degrees?
Oh, I don't know. Perhaps it's my worthiness issues, I still feel kind of young. I'm just starting to explore trying to be more of a community advocate. And it seemed like I had the opportunity just strictly based on the fact that I had a [69,000] Twitter following, you know? It was really that simple. Prior to that I had to physically be in 10 places at once, which is not possible.
We hear so much about breast cancer now, but as someone who has been attuned to it for 20 years, it doesn't feel like it's getting much better.
No, of course not. The one thing that is getting better is diagnostics. Younger and younger women, and more and more women and men, are getting diagnosed with cancer earlier. So, that's a testament to our big mouths and people being aware...
Definitely. My grandmother died of breast cancer before I was born, it was her second bout and she never spoke of it so that's the cone of silence my mom grew up in.
And most families did. In many different cultures here in Canada, that still exists in a big way. In small towns it still exists, in South Asian cultures it still exists, it just does. And also you have to look at First Nations communities, remote communities, the Inuit up in the north; they don't have access to mammography. A lot of those communities are fly-in only. How do we get healthcare to those people?
So your last album, The Promise, was written in hospital. This one was not.
No, this was our acoustic record that was basically a response to the demand from the fans because we had been doing so many acoustic shows. So some of the songs, the singles, we revisited. I like them better, because it was the original way they were written. I don't know if I had a Patsy Cline fantasy or what it was, but we always wrote songs on acoustic guitar with vocals. It just seems very natural and a good fit for me. I'm very excited about it.
There are new versions of “Tango Shoes” and “I Love Myself Today” and “Spaceman.” But we were able to include some new songs on there, too, and that was something that I wasn't anticipating at all. It's exciting.
How different was it to be writing music again, but in remission this time?
It actually hasn't differed at all. I'm always writing lyrics, just 'cause that's just kind of always how it's been for me. With the songs on The Promise record, some of those songs really were songs about heartache and heartbreak, like I've always written. My whole life is just basically about long-suffering, trying to find the right guy, and failing miserably my whole life, 'cause I'm hasty and I'm gullible. No matter what, you and I could sit here and have a perfectly lovely day, if I had the opportunity to go home and write about the guy in grade eight who crushed me and humiliated me in front of his friends, I will be able to just write a song about it, just like any of us. You tap into your experiences that basically you never healed from and that is stuff we all carry with us. I don't know any human being who has 100 percent resolved all their stuff, emotionally.
You mentioned your marriage earlier.
Yes. I'm two for two. I got married when I was 18 and I got married again right before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Certainly I think that was probably a big factor. I can only assume. What can I say? It's a tragedy, basically. I took it very seriously. I was in love with that individual and married them and it just wasn't meant to be. Unfortunately, I am now facing not only being single going into my 40s, but being childless. Trying to navigate that emotionally and psychologically doesn't make me a good candidate for a date.
That happens. My parents stayed together but I know they lost some friends, because those friends just weren't able to be there when she needed them -- and when she got better, she didn't want them anymore.
Cancer is something that is very, very telling. People scatter because it's difficult for people. Whether they're facing their own mortality, or whether they just feel awkward and then too much time has passed and then they feel more awkward, it takes a lot of courage to just push through all of those questions and those insecurities and just be present for somebody.