Finding Beauty in the Ordinary
PictureTeacher, Barbara Burns' art room office door, "Post-it Note Love Bombed"
I just found out I have breast cancer. Being the teacher that I am, I shared my story in hopes that it may help someone along their path. Well, it helped me as well.

I am blessed with amazing people in my life (loved ones, family, friends, coworkers, students, community members and complete strangers). The love, and support, that rippled back to me came in not just a wave, but a tidal wave.

I have been known to leave Post-it Notes (i.e. Love Bombs) of love around (i.e. washrooms, offices, desks etc.). Well, karma does exist. The day after I shared my news with my students (and the world, via my website), I came in an saw 'Post-It Note Love Bombs' on my Art Room Office door and all in my office.

Words won't adequately express what I felt, and feel now, but the tears ran and I felt completely surrounded and stronger. Thank you, to the whoevers (as there were different types of handwriting), for your kindness and love. Thank you.

I know I have been in people's thoughts and prayers, since my last blog sharing, so I wanted to share all that is happening. The wonderful benefits of having a webpage is that I can share this update once, and then be able to focus on my healing. Thank you for the hundreds of love expressed through various means. You have steadied my step. Really!!! XO

Below is what has happened in the last few days, and self-portraits I took the day of my meeting with the surgeon at the Cross Cancer Institute.
PictureArtist, Barbara Burns, wearing tokens of love.

I wanted to be strong, yet open, to all the information I was about to receive at the Cross Cancer Institute, so with my wearable tokens of love (jewelry), I wore red today. Mom loved red on me. Despite her being gone, just over 8 months, she was with me comforting, and giving me strength, in my favorite red top. Being an artist I see, and use, symbols to inspire me. And it isn’t surprising that the colour red is one for vitality, love, blood and passion.

PictureBarbara Burns tired, but ready, for this cancer journey.
Well, it is going to happen sooner. Much sooner than I was anticipating. My Nurse Navigator, Debbie, who is answering questions about cancer and sending me oodles of information and booklets, told me that surgery would be 3-4 weeks after my meeting with the surgeon. I am the exception to that rule, as my surgery date is a week and three days from today’s meeting (June 9th).

This came after a meeting, the day before, with my Pain Specialist Doctor. I was going in for another injection, to my spine, to help dull/freeze the nerve firings. Once I mentioned that I had just been diagnosed with cancer, he told me that the cancer treatment was the most pressing issue, and that he would not inject me again, into my L5 and the growth, until he was cleared by the cancer doctor, as well as my gastro-intestinal doctor. I agreed that dealing with the cancer was the most pressing issue, but asked him, “What about my pain (as it has been intense)? How can I get some relief for my pain now and through my cancer recovery journey?”  He suggested increasing my oral painkillers, which I know my gastro-intestinal doctor will not be impressed (due to its complications and effects on my GI). To add to my frustration, the medication specialist doctor (yes, there seems to be a doctor for everything), isn’t available for months and months (despite being a patient of his); and so, I placed myself on the cancellation waitlist. And all I can think is, “Let’s hope the day I can get in to see him, doesn’t interfere with any of my radiation, chemotherapy or future GI procedures.”

Life doesn’t seem to be concerned with my timetable. In my mind, I was envisioning two more weeks with my students, then a week to physically, mentally and spiritually prepare for the surgery. As a teacher, one is normally drained, to the extreme, at this time of year. I have the ‘end of school’ tiredness in my body along with the mental and physical stressors of having extreme health challenges. My body and spirit feel very weak right now; my reserves are depleted as I have feelings of being blindsided by this new disease and being raw emotionally.

What has given me strength are the hundreds of texts, emails, flowers, candles lit, messages written on paper, books, chocolate, sharings of prayers from strangers and friends, hugs, teary looks, food and offers to sit, and be, in my presence. There is such power in love.

On Monday I have another procedure, at the University Hospital, a gastro-intestinal procedure that will hopefully find answers. Then on Tuesday, I will have time at school to teach and be with my students (and to prep my wonderful substitute). From that day on, my introverted soul will withdraw to strengthen my body, mind and spirit through rest. I intend to face the surgery strong.

I have been called numerous things over the years (***smile***). In fact some of my educational bosses have seen the spirit of animals in me. One assistant principal, when I first started out, called me a tiger; he saw my strength, ‘attack mode’ mentality when something needed to be done and my passion. A recent, former principal said to me, “You are a work horse.” My Great Grandfather would be proud of this comparison as he bred Clydesdales. They are gentle giants and are powerful workhorses that keep going. And as for the tiger, I am earning my stripes; I intend to be strong in my stance and not afraid of fighting this new battle.

All is well and will be well…despite my timeline being off! Ah, life.

Barbara Burns thankful for all the support, and outpouring of love, since her diagnosis.
News came. I was composed in the Doctor’s office. I was composed when I drove home. When I got home, THEN, I cried. Friends offered to be with me, but I needed time to assimilate to this recent disclosure.  For me, assimilation comes from creating through ArtWork & Words. And so, here at my computer I sit. I cried some more and then began to put down my thoughts and feelings. For I find, that when I fully express how I am feeling, I can then regroup and carry on. Why do I share myself with you on this Wide World Web? I share because the teacher in me believes in the power of sharing; for I know that what I share might help or change someone’s life for the better.  This has power.

The following is what I created:

I know my face is red from crying. I know my eyes are puffy and swollen. My head aches. And my heart seems broken right now. Physically, I have gone through so much already, and this is just another nail on the coffin.

Two thoughts came to my mind:
1. Things come in threes, and
2. How do I tell my dad?

I believe things come in threes and that once the third is reached, the cycle is then complete (yet, my recent fourth broken toe didn’t get this memo!! ***smile***).

Most people know the first scenario (all TOO well), but the following two are new to everyone. I’ve kept the latter two close to my chest for some time. Now, I need to share it, as it is beginning to feel like a burden I can’t carry alone.

1. For almost a decade, I have had a growth on my spine. It has been surgically removed, and has regrown. The neurosurgeons and medical specialists are perplexed. I am in constant pain and I have mobility issues. Continual medical procedures are being done in order to help me with my pain and mobility. I am grateful for all the help and support I have received.

2. From the surgery and the growth, I have nerve damage from my L5. I have recently encountered severe consequences to the areas that these nerve bundles serve. For the past two months, and into the future months, I will engage in numerous tests and procedures to help me in this matter. I am thankful for all the specialists for their work…and that I am Canadian and can be taken care of so well.

3. Today, it was confirmed that I have cancer. I had a feeling, but today with the biopsy results in hand, and the Doctor’s sullen face, it was definite. I will be in line for surgery to remove the growth and then I will be on another journey. Hints of mastectomy, treatment et al were given, but I will cross that road when I get to it. I am blessed for the immediacy that my Doctor and the Breast Centre Radiology (for all in one mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy!) acted.   

But it is the final aspect that causes me to be sad and scared at the same time. How do I tell my dad? My mom already knows, as she died from lung cancer eight months ago, and is watching over me. The last few conversations with my dad, I told him that I was having more procedures and tests done concerning the L5 nerve damage, as well as ‘other’ assessments and processes. This strong, unrockable, emotionless man had his voice quaked when he responded, “Oh…no…” I’m glad I didn’t share about the large, hard lump. I didn’t want to worry him more. I have only seen tears in my dad’s eyes twice. The first was when I left home for the first time, and when my mom died.

But it seems I will have to tell him.  Tonight, in fact, I will phone him.

Here I am a mature woman, and I am afraid of my dad. I am not afraid of his power, any longer, but I’m afraid that I will break him with this news.  My wish is that I will be able to convey that ‘it will be all right,’ to him, even though I am tired as hell from this physical battle.

So many emotions swim over me. I feel anger, frustration, pain, betrayal, anguish, fear and so many others. Yet even with this, and after writing this, I see and feel the love I have in my life. I am blessed with a wonderful family, friends, coworkers, students, community members and strangers who visit my site from around the world. I know I am not alone. This thing called love truly empowers me despite all the craziness that is consuming me right now.

I am blessed in so many ways.

I believe we have the power to change; through our actions, we can effect the direction of our personal lives and those around us. Often we think, in order for things to change, it has to be a grand gesture. Yes, we can take a giant leap to alter our (and others) reality, but it can also be done through a single step. This single step can be a kind word, a small act, or a single decision.

Sometimes we don't know what the effects of our actions can have. All we need to do is to decide what speaks to our hearts and minds, and take the first step. For if we are true to ourselves, listen to what makes our hearts sing, and that it is kind (to ourselves and others), then the effect has the possibility of something special. It is like feeding a tender bloom. From our own flower can be the beginning of a garden.

Think of your cause today? What do you want to focus on? What single step, can you take, that can lead you on your journey? For where your heart and mind is, there is your life. Focus on a word. Have a mantra, saying or affirmation that reminds you of your cause. What do you intend to share of yourself with your family / loved ones / coworkers / community / strangers / the world? Because you every interaction with others or moment of solitude, you are expressing all that you desire.

You have the power. You have the choice. Where will you go today? You have a cause, and you are the effect. 

Sidenote: For the month of April, I wore red lipstick, everyday, for the Red My Lips Campaign. This campaign was to encourage awareness on sexual assault and victim blaming. I told my High School students about this, and I found that in my classroom, for the month of April, I saw others wearing red lipstick. Some students told me that they had no red lipstick in their possession, and like me, had to go out and buy it, in order to wear it, for this campaign.

I have never been a 'red lipstick sort of girl,' as it seemed too bright and bold. In fact, I was quite conscious of my lips during the first week of this campaign. But I believed in the message of this campaign, and took daily selfies, and posted them on social media, to show my support. Even at Parent Teacher Interviews, I wore my red lips and shared the message with a Red My Lips flyer behind me. 

And, now it is May. Reflecting back on this campaign, I have come to see a few things:
  1. a simple action can have an effect
  2. putting on red lipstick (i.e. stepping outside my comfort zone) became more comfortable as time went on. This is SO applicable to life and our fears.
  3. through social media, people can meet, connect and share their brave stories and messages (especially Instagram/ and Twitter for this campaign) 
  4. I found out that I rock red lips! (and I will be wearing my April red lipstick purchases in other months of the year!)