GayCalgary® Magazine [copy]


Post Cancer and Living Every Day as if it is a Birthday

Celebrity Interview by Lisa Lunney (From GayCalgary® Magazine, October 2017, page 56)
Bif Naked
Bif Naked
Bif Naked
Bif Naked

Bif Naked is the ultimate Canadian icon. She has inspired us with both her sound and her larger than life personality. Her body of work is timeless, as is her message of finding hope and happiness despite whatever life throws at you.

GayCalgary was privileged once again to share a raw interview experience with the one and only - Bif.

GC: Hello, how are you doing today? The news of the forest fires in BC have been all over Alberta media.

Bif: I’m really lucky. My mom has COPD and I know it would really suck for her right now, but she is in Winnipeg thankfully. I know you guys dealt with it last summer. Climate changing and global warming, I guess.

GC: Climate change doesn’t exist according to some people, right?

Bif: I know. Its wild.

GC: A question that is always hard to ask - but I feel is important to ask. Not that it defines you, but definitely once you go through it, it changes you. How did your cancer diagnosis change you?

Bif: I feel like it saved my life. It was so revealing and unbelievable. It couldn’t have come at a better time. I had been playing three-hundred shows a year for probably eighteen-years in a row. I had just gotten married, maybe a couple weeks before. To be honest, cancer or any health crisis, or crisis within a family; whether an illness, car accident, death, birth, something that’s happened is always going to be a catalyst for change. Positive or negative. For me, as a newlywed, cancer really turned the corner for my relationship. My relationship did not survive cancer — but I did. Cancer is the big reveal. It shows you who you are, the truth of who everyone is around you. Some people step up, some people step away. It’s always interesting and unpredictable. Meanwhile, technically, the patient is supposed to be focusing on getting healthy and being a successful patient. More often than not, particularly with women, interestingly enough with breast cancer; women overcompensate. Because it’s our nature, we want to make sure everyone else is okay with our cancer. A lot of women whom have been diagnosed with breast cancer, they have kids. They still have to be a mom, taking care of their children. Some of them don’t have a car, they still have to get to chemo. Some of them have an abusive husband, they still have to deal with that. Even though they are going through cancer treatment life doesn’t stop.

I’ve learned so much. I could talk about it all day. The prevalence of cancer for Canadian women, diagnostics are better, so more people are being diagnosed. We are living longer, so more people are getting diagnose with cancer. I think that talking about it and not just raising awareness but raising our consciousness around cancer is really important as we move forward in our time.

GC: How do you deal with the fear of cancer returning?

Bif: I don’t have any. I’ve never had any. I was one of those punk rock kids that thought, "dude I’m gonna croak by the time I’m 30", "I’m so tough." 30 came and went and I hadn’t croaked, I couldn’t believe it. I had a lot of misadventures in my life with violence, drugs, vehicular problems - whatever it was. For whatever reason I was spared, I was never killed. Cancer was another one. It never occurred to me that I could die from it. Ever. And if I did? I have always been the sort of person that I would just go "MEH" I’ve had such a full life, I’ve had great relationships with my parents. I could die happy every day of my life. I’ve felt that way since I was five years old. My relationship with death and mortality has always been a happy one. Not in a goth way. In a real, peaceful, transition of the body kind of way of thinking. I don’t know entirely if it’s my parents that instilled that in me, my sisters do not share my opinions and they were raised in the same house. I’ve never lived with that fear, so I don’t fear it coming back. I have a scan coming up for problems with my kidney. It never occurs to me that it could be a tumour or anything. I just think it’s something like taking too much ibuprofen.

GC: That’s such a great attitude. It’s certainly hard not to worry that every unknown is going to be another big bad diagnosis.

Bif: Of course. I have lots of friends who always think in those terms. It’s cautious. It’s not like they live with rampant anxiety. It’s natural for us, especially as we get older to always have that curiosity. What could it be? It’s conditioned behaviour. A cancer diagnosis is a trauma. Anything that remotely resembles a question mark is going to be triggering.

GC: How do you maintain faith after everything you’ve experienced?

Bif: In this lifetime, I have been lucky since the day I was born. The fact I was adopted predestined me to feel like I was a lucky bastard. I’ll find the silver lining in anything. Someone may also have what I have, but they’ll have no place to live. Or they’ll have an abusive partner.

I always know for sure there is going to be someone that has it so much worse than me regardless of what’s going on. I can never feel bad for myself. If I do, I always come back to that place where I’m reminded that I have it so good.

GC: Great outlook. Talking family, have you ever gone back to India?

Bif: Yes, I have. We are planning to go back again hopefully next year. I would like to go back to the hospital I was born at. I’ve been back to the city I was born in, New Delhi. India is a very interesting society. It has the largest middle class in the whole world, primarily based on their population. It’s one of the real forerunners in the world for many companies. It’s an exciting place to live and to be. There is such extreme poverty that it is almost unimaginable. It rocked me. I didn’t want to come back to North America ever, I just felt like I didn’t deserve to live in North America. Everyone is shallow, people complain that they are living in misery with their two car families. In India people live in a tent basically and are the most joyful people I have ever met. It says so much about how we are as a society.

GC: I’m thrilled you were able to experience that. I didn’t remember seeing much discussing it in the book, so I had to mention it.

Bif: It was right around 2000 when I went to India. My book was very lovingly edited. As a new writer, meaning I didn’t know how to type - I hand wrote and didn’t understand word counts-I submitted around 275,000 words. They really only wanted around 50, so a lot of stories didn’t make the final cut. I couldn’t get personal or upset about it. It’s just like making a record. When we write 40 songs, some of which I’m very attached to because they are personal, or they make me cry when I sing them. Then they get cut and I have to take a deep breath and accept it. A lot of my stories were cut.

GC: Any plans for another book?

Bif: I am going to write a cancer book. I’ve been working on it for a while. I want to write a really honest book. You’re having a great time even though you’re stuck in this shitty cancer existence. How do I come across and say here’s some tools that can help you ride it out? Who am I really writing it for? So, I had to reframe how I wanted to discuss staying positive during cancer without sounding so flippant. I met so many people who are not there. It takes a while to find the meaning in adversity. If you’re not there yet, you certainly don’t want someone with a sunny disposition running around saying be positive. It’s hard to be positive. It’s a tricky book for me to write. I want to do a good job and I want to make sure its sensitive.

GC: I am really looking forward to that.

Bif: I’m glad! I need to figure out how to do it without swearing because I love to swear.

GC: There needs to be swear words in it. The whole point is to provide comfort and be real - swearing is necessary.

Bif: Exactly. A lot of people have embraced the term Fuck Cancer which is wonderful. My softball coach whom doesn’t swear likes to say suck it cancer.

GC: What poets and literary pieces are you most inspired by?

Bif: When I was about fifteen I stole a poetry book from my high school library. It was a Canadian writer, Irving Layton. I had never heard of him. He was dirty, passionate, articulate and I started collecting his work as a teenager. He still inspires me so much with his poetry. I still like Camille Paglia. A lot of my feminist buddies complain about her writing. They feel her stance is too harsh or whatever. I really enjoy it. I love reading a lot. I never got into fiction when I was young. I started reading my parents medical textbooks and started collecting guides to the MCATS. On tour buses I was taking quizzes for medical exams to pass the time. In my twenties I was a voracious reader. I was isolated, and it was a lonely existence on a tour bus, so I read a lot.

GC: The conversation of mental illness is opening up as you’ve mentioned. What changes do you hope to see for treatment in your lifetime?

Bif: I hope it’s covered. It’s expensive for anyone to see a psychologist. If you wait for social services to seek counselling there is a wait list, by the time your chance comes it could be too late. More care needs to be provided. It should come along with our regular medical services. That’s obviously a utopian dream but it’s something to strive for.

GC: How can we make the world a better place?

Bif: By being nice. Just by being nice. People like to film idiots, you see it all over the news or social media. Some idiots spouting their mouth off yelling or doing road rage. People are terrible. They say awful things to each other. I just think, what the fuck is wrong with you? It’s just wild that people behave like that. I just think, what happened to you that you are so fucked up? If there was less of that, it would be easier for all of us. If it wasn’t natural for people to be mean it would be great. Life would be better.

GC: What mark do you want to leave on the world?

Bif: Like anybody else, I hope when I croak someone will listen to my spoken word record or read something I wrote, and they will laugh.

GC: Again, you have such a great attitude.

Bif: Every day is a birthday. My manager says I’m too nice. I think we all have the same amount of positivity we all just channel it differently. My husband says everyday above ground is a great day. Although he frames it a bit differently than me, he’s right.

Related Articles

Contributor Lisa Lunney |

Person Bif Naked |

Topic Celebrity Interview |


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