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BIF'S naked truth Add to ...

When she talks about fellow cancer patients - from the women she shared tips with on wigs, to the old guys on the chemo ward she entertained with her best Don Rickles impersonations - there isn't a scrap of showbiz about her.

She says she didn't really care when her hair fell out - she made her early morning trip to the grocery store every day as usual, just with an "old lady blond wig I bought at the Bay and three inches of spackle on my face."

It wasn't until recently, when she realized she was going to be back in the public eye, that she started fretting. "My personal identity is the girl in the grocery store and at the dog park who won't shut up," she explains. "When it comes to work, it's a professional identity and an image I've had for 20 years. I hate Joan Jett's short haircut." Naked has often been likened to the U.S. rock star. "I don't want to be compared to her," she pouts.

She went back to work last spring. Her management moved offices to be one block from her apartment building and employed the band Neurosonic's lead singer/producer Jason Darr to collaborate on the project. "I had to make a record," she explains. "And Jason was the toughest producer I ever worked with - he never treated me like I was sick. If he didn't like my vocals - regardless of the bulls' testicles my lymph glands had become, constricting my throat - he would just tell me I was there to do it right, or go home."

For his part, Darr says, cancer or no cancer, it had to be the best it could be: "I knew she was tough, but to show up - as sick as she was, day after day - she deserved my respect not to compromise her career."

She recalls one day that she worked so hard, she spent the next 20 days in bed recovering. It was worth it though, because she is proud of the result - an indisputably angry record with myriad references to karma and fire. "We get what we deserve," she spits on the first track Crash and Burn.

"That is a tough one," she nods. "It makes me cry, I don't know how the fuck I am going to perform it live."

She's planning to tour? Is she up to it?

"I won't know until I turn purple and fall down onstage and they won't let me do it again," she counters. "I really won't know my capabilities until I try."

There's a practical side to her drive to get onstage as well: She needs to start earning income again. Many cancer drugs are not publicly covered - she spent $2,600 a month for one injection during her treatment. "But a lot of people have to take the bus to chemo," she notes, sadly. "People still have to cook and clean and look after their children. They have to work and the hospital appointments are a full-time job in themselves."

It's been a grind, but there are upsides: She believes her sickness gave her new marriage the solid foundation it may otherwise have lacked. Before, she was always on tour and home maybe two days a month. Without the cancer, she says, "I wouldn't have had the same opportunity to get to know Ian - we saw each other at our worst."

"It was basically just us," she shrugs. "And I don't know how we didn't self-destruct."

Many friends vanished overnight, but she says she understands. People don't know what to say, and then they leave it too long, she says generously - or they think breast cancer is just about buying a pin and staying hopeful.

"I call it the fluffy pink bubble," Naked says. "And I feel badly for anyone who doesn't want to be tied in a pretty pink bow - because it's almost expected that you'll run around with a pink-ribbon sticker on your car, or buy pink-ribbon socks at the drugstore."

The way celebrities present their own disease also makes a difference, she says, adding: "Christina Applegate goes around saying she's going to cut her tits off prophylactically and then get the perkiest new ones in Hollywood." Naked frowns. " [Applegate is]reinforcing what society expects and wants us to do.

"People see these beautiful blond Hollywood women who never went through chemotherapy and think that is what breast cancer is - when the reality is, that most of us turn into bald, yellow frogs.

"Breast cancer puts a lot of social pressure on women," she adds. "And you are expected to have an epiphany in the process. But you are who you are - and cancer doesn't change that."

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