The C Word – Part 22: My 1 Year Cancer-versary

May 15th, 2022. Exactly one year since my diagnosis. One year since I stood clinging to my husband in the Doctor’s office, sobbing, thinking my life was over. One year since this C-Word journey began.

In this one year I feel as if I’ve learned more about myself than I had in the past fifty-two. I’ve dug deep to find courage and to find my own personal truths. I’ve cut ties with people who no longer served me and forgiven people I never thought I could forgive. I’ve grown closer to the memory of my mother and grandmother as I experienced some of what they went through in their cancer journeys. I’ve been terrified by the darkest parts of life and I’ve found love, hope and purpose in my own backyard. I’ve seen both sides of the rainbow and embraced the gentle inevitability of death.

I experienced times of such deep discomfort when I felt as if I’d never truly be “me” again, and times when I surged with all the joyful possibilities for the time I do have here on this plane of existence. There were times when I was angry at my body for betraying me. I screamed, I yelled and I cried at the seemingly unbearable randomness of life, and I learned to find deep joy and satisfaction in mindfulness and the incredible beauty of this amazing planet we call Earth.

Oh, the dark thoughts still creep in. I’m only human, after all. But when they do, I yell “FUCK THAT SHIT” and shake it off. Because there’s no time for wallowing. No time for manifesting doom. I want to use the time I still have on this planet – whatever amount of time that may end up being – to LIVE FULLY. To leave no regrets at how I live the remainder of my days. To CREATE in the face of destruction and to choose LOVE in the face of hatred.

I couldn’t have come this far without the support of my friends and family across the globe. The notes, messages, cards, care packages and waves of love and energy I’ve received from you all are nothing short of miraculous. I am deeply grateful that I have learned to receive all that love after so many years of feeling unworthy of it.

One year later, minus two ovaries, a chunk of colon and with a newly nearly regenerated liver, I am a changed woman in mind, body and spirit. I am more “me” than I’ve ever been, though I may look just the same on the outside. Except for my battle scar. My badge of honour. My life tattoo. My constant reminder that nothing is permanent and that we need to fully embrace every tiny moment of love and beauty that life has to offer and learn not to dwell on the crushing negativity that can easily encroach on our daily lives.

I’ve spent the majority of the past 15 years performing as a burlesque cabaret artist. Back in New York, I’d gotten fed up with the musical theatre machine and wanted to have control over the art I was performing. And then I stumbled on the burlesque revival. Burlesque gave me complete artistic control: over my message, my aesthetic, my costume creation (one of my passions) and even where I chose to perform. Finding it was a revelation to me. But I was terrified to tell my very catholic parents. It wasn’t until 2011 when they were visiting Vancouver when they finally agreed to see me perform. I did one of my most elegant acts to a classic jazz instrumental. To my surprise, they were OK with it. After all, they said, I’d been in a modern dance company in college and we often wore very minimal costuming.

A couple of years later, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. By the time she was diagnosed, the cancer had spread to so many organs and areas of her body that I’m still surprised she survived all the invasive surgeries and treatments and lived for five more years. She was always a very private person – not even dressing in the same room as my dad. And in the hospital, there were constantly teams of strangers poking and prodding and observing her nearly naked body. She told me that in those moments she found great comfort in thinking of my burlesque work and teaching. She said she realized how important my work was – helping women to not be ashamed of their bodies. I cherish that memory in my heart each and every day.

And now here I am after a year of battling cancer with a drastically changed body. A lumpy scar running the length of my torso, a chemo port still protruding from my right chest, severe weight loss and the extreme thinning of my formerly famously thick mane of red hair. And I’m performing burlesque. I’m crafting my cabaret show for this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival all about this crazy trip with the same humour and hope that got me this far. I’m putting myself on display. Because I’m here. I’m ALIVE right now, no matter what the future brings. And because our bodies are simply not who we are. Our bodies are here to serve us – they move us and hopefully allow us to work and play and laugh and love. They’re messy and oozy and confusing and painful. But they are not US. We transcend all that.

People tell me I perform through my eyes. And I think they’re right. While I’m offstage, I still have moments when I curse my body’s changes and new limitations, but onstage, it all melts away and I feel like I’m inviting the audience into a deeper and more beautiful place: my soul. 

I still believe in magic, and I know I’m here to be a magic-maker.

If this year didn’t stop me from doing that, dammit, nothing will.

Photo of Kyrst Hogan aka Burgundy Brixx taken May 12, 2022 by Shimona Henry,
Photo by Shimona Henry, taken May 12, 2022

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