Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Bif Naked

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Health Advisor is a regular column where contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging. Follow us @Globe_Health.

I call them breast cancer "rookies." Women newly diagnosed are like unbaked chocolate chip cookie dough: Sweet and raw. Ready to be moulded, baked and changed forever by the experience itself – but hopefully also by experienced patients like me.

Breast cancer is still the most common women's cancer, and still the deadliest. In Canada alone, 65 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer each and every day.

Story continues below advertisement

I remember when one of those 65 women was me.

So green, so new, such a deer in the headlights. I didn't know a "surgically implanted port" (that bottle-cap-looking thing implanted under your collarbone) from "neutropenia" (when your white blood cell count dips after your chemotherapy infusion, and you can't fight infection effectively). But I learned. And, I believe, I learned from other women to help other women. It's how things work.

I got most of my information from my oncologists. But I learned my secrets, my gems, from other patients, as we found each other through patient waiting rooms, in elevators and hallways, and in the chemo wards. I learned a lot about strength and the power in numbers from these other women, and this uplifted and encouraged me.

Some of the handy nurses' and volunteers' advice that we shared included the tip that if you have nausea, take your provided medication immediately to prevent throwing it up. Or that rinsing your mouth with warm salty water several times a day will help shorten the duration and discomfort of those notorious mouth sores that everyone seems to get. Or that some of the medications led to diarrhea or constipation or both! In conversations with others, I would go on to expand on some of these suggestions, and provide further information (like carrying baby wipes in one's purse, for said side-effects).

As my treatment progressed, I loved to try to help as much as I could, like suggesting rookies connect with their calmness, or discover it, in a more "mindful" way. Writing down and repeating mantras such as "When you are hungry – eat. When you are tired – lay down," straight from Zen textbooks, could effectively be applied to chemotherapy side-effects and their unpredictable nature.

I was forced by my side-effects to become more flexible and patient, and I will always be grateful for that now-lifelong benefit. I like to encourage women to reframe their time during cancer treatments as an opportunity to spiritually evolve and develop these tools. The blessing is that these new-found techniques actually stay with us, long after the treatments are over.

And I've learned that women are amazing.

Story continues below advertisement

After the initial shock and guttural sobs subside, women take a deep breath, roll their sleeves up and go on. Like performing artists, we fake it till we make it, and complete our treatments and operations while taking care of husbands, kids, aging parents, and even working full time.

I did too, working full time during chemo and radiation, navigating two sick senior dogs (in fact, my bichon frise Annastasia had her eighth disc surgery on the same day as my first chemo) and being a newlywed – I was the consummate actress – just like all the other women I met in the cancer clinics. Women go to parent-teacher meetings, drive kids to soccer, bathe dogs, support husbands and make chocolate chip cookies like pros – all during cancer treatments.

We might as well have been the Rockettes, smiling from ear-to-ear and doing our leg-kicks in unison, right there in the patient waiting rooms.

Unfortunately, we do not receive Tony Awards or Academy Awards for our efforts. We do receive many gifts, however. One of which is the new sisterhood to which we belong.

Take away the pink ribbons and all the charity organizations, the walks, the runs, and the political correctness of our society, and we are left with each other: Our sister breast cancer patients, all of us fighting for our lives. We are all in the trenches together, fighting for ourselves, for each other and for a world without breast cancer.

We survive, exchanging knowing looks, sharing information, triumphs and tragedies – and even laughter. And it really is the best medicine.

Story continues below advertisement

As vaudevillian as it sounds, breast cancer sisterhood is The Big Show, and the experienced take the rookies under their wings, together making the show a smash success. The prize is our long, healthy lives.

And, if we're lucky, with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies waiting just for us. Pink frosting optional.

Bif Naked is an international recording artist, cancer survivor, poet and activist currently working on her first book with Harper Collins. Loving and living in Vancouver and Paris, simultaneously. You can follow her on Twitter @bifnaked

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies