'If you're going to get cancer, and you're a girl, go for the tit."
Bif Naked has a lot to say - no surprise there. And who would expect Vancouver's loud-mouthed, heavily tattooed, punk-rock chick to deliver a subdued survivor script in the same vernacular as Sheryl Crow, say, or Kylie Minogue?
A bone fide riot grrl, Naked's tough but sexy persona and provocative lyrics - she's written about being raped and having an abortion - not to mention her in-your-face bisexual lifestyle, has located her on the Canadian music fringe since her 1995 eponymous debut album. And her background - born in India, adopted by missionaries - provided just the kind of colour the press eats up.
"So, am I the new token Tit Girl?" she asks as we sit down to discuss her new album, about one year after her diagnosis with Stage 2 breast cancer. The challenge in her tone is impossible to ignore.
The album - The Promise - drops on May 5, and she's back doing a bit of press, the first since she announced she had breast cancer a little over a year ago. It's a fair enough question: There is no expectation on either side of the tape recorder that we'll be spending the whole time talking about her music.
There is, of course, her trademark bravado throughout the conversation. She trots out self-deprecating jokes about her appearance, shares the fact that it's a good thing her husband is an ass man and describes crazy photo collages of the "most heinous" self-portraits she sent to a good friend as her hair fell out and her skin changed colour.
It's a good show, but it feels familiar - a well-practised shtick designed to make us both more comfortable.
And it doesn't quite jibe with the woman in front of me, skinny and shivering in a yellow T-shirt and white cowboy boots. It's an unexpectedly snowy day in Vancouver, and Naked can't get the heat high enough in the townhouse that's doubling as her management's offices and studio. She looks cute in her pixie cut - although she'd probably hate to hear it. There are a couple of subtle signs of lingering sickness - a slight puffiness along the right side of her jaw line and the unnatural sheen of heavily applied makeup.
She wraps a thin cotton shawl around herself and I notice Band-Aids wrapped around her fingertips. Are they from too much guitar playing?
"No," she sighs. "The Docetaxel in the chemotherapy melted my fingernails off."
And with that, the small talk is over.
The 37-year-old singer was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in late 2007, just six weeks after returning from her honeymoon with new husband, Vancouver sportswriter Ian Walker. She had found a lump during her first ever self-examination and was immediately catapulted into treatment.
"As soon as I was told, I just said, 'Okay, what do I do now? Tell me where to go and I'll be there.' "
After a lumpectomy, 17 rounds of chemotherapy infusions (six with a cocktail of three drugs; a further 11 with a single drug), radiation treatment and a staph infection, she is still not done.
"I'm having an overectomy next," she says, matter-of-factly, before launching in to a no-holds-barred description of the procedure that will remove her ovaries and any chance of children. "They fill your abdomen full of air, in order to get the stuff in there to do it," she explains. "They don't go up you, they go down you - which is a little surprising."
She jokes about whether it means she'll be gassy for weeks afterwards, but admits she's just resigned to the seemingly endless process of ridding her body of disease.
Breast cancer brought with it a gruelling intensive treatment schedule at Vancouver General Hospital, including a clinical trial studying the effects of exercise during chemotherapy.
There were 16 women in the trial, and they trained together for one hour three times a week. They formed a team for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation's Run for the Cure in Vancouver last October.
"I participated as Beth Walker [her real name]- and I would never have it any other way," Naked insists. "I am fiercely protective of these women - they were a huge support for me and they didn't know what my job is. Maya's from the [expletive]Ukraine; she might be 75 years old. She's never heard of a Bif Naked and she doesn't care because we were in the trenches together and it would never be relevant. It still isn't."
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