Finding Beauty in the Ordinary
Artist Barbara Burns and music
Music soothes and moves Barbara Burns through her life (and cancer journey).
Today, I’m going to share my personal bias about music (and by the title, I think you can tell what that is!), and some of the music I love. And then I want your help: I want you to share what music soothes and moves you!

I believe in the power of the Arts (literary, performance, visual and audio). Granted, I may be biased, being an Art Teacher and all, but what people create from their souls is supreme. It has power for two reasons: number one, as an Art Teacher I see first hand that creation is the highest form of learning. So excuse the lesson here, but below is an “educational” visual called Bloom’s Taxonomy to share my point. Bloom’s Taxonomy basically summarizes the steps of learning. 

Bloom's Taxonomy visual is from University of Arkansas Tips. Click on image for link.
So, for someone to create a work of art, write a book and produce music, the creator needs to learn and understand the skills of their craft, apply what they know, analyze and evaluate what works, and finally create something that has never been seen or heard before. Pretty impressive this ‘creative’ stuff, isn’t it? Okay, enough of this ‘education’ stuff…

Secondly, the Arts do things to, and for, people. Music can soothe our emotions, and yet inspire us to action (“Pump us up” and Dancing are two of them!!). A work of art can make people sigh with remembrance, and yet capture a powerful sentiment. A written piece has the ability to make us feel connected, and make us think and change ourselves and the world.

So, do you understand my bias?

As I mentioned earlier, in another blog post, music has soothed and moved me. I love all sorts of music; Alternative, Rock, Instrumental, Pop and the Songwriter genres are some of the music I have; in my possession there is an ancient selection of albums, called CDs, that number close to 950, and my downloads on iTunes, well, did I mention I love music? In fact, my love of music is known that I have been asked to join a Pubstumpers Trivia Team to help them with their chances of winning in that area. Needless to say, with all the music I consume, I have various Playlists on my iPhone. When I have people over for dinner, I have a playlist called “Mange, Mange” (this is French for eat…eat!). I have a huge song selection that I play while at “School,” in my classroom, for my students and myself. And then when I come home and want to chill, I have a “Meditation” selection.

But there is one playlist that has gotten me through the growth on my spine and my cancer treatments; it is called “Resiliency.” These songs did two things: they soothed and moved me. I have songs that have quieted and eased my spirit and mind when the effects of treatment were hard. I would focus on a sound or be lulled by the music. These songs would become a sort of musical medication meditation where I would try to block out everything else and just be present with the music. And secondly, with any chronic condition (and life!), there can be some very discouraging and down moments. And so on this playlist I have songs that inspire me, add a little gas to my tank, and have given me more fight.

Presently, I have 114 songs on my Resiliency Playlist. I am sharing some of my songs, as you might be interested in creating your own “Resiliency” playlist or just want to hear some new music. iTunes, as you know, is a great place to hear a snippet of the song, so wander over there if you feel inclined (or click on their name to head over to their website!)! So, here are some songs that move me (in no particular order):

And to soothe me (in no particular order):

So, I would like your input. What songs soothe you? What songs move you? Please share because I am always looking for new songs to add to my Resiliency Playlist. Oh, and did I mention that I love music? (***smile***)

Yesterday I had lunch with an amazing cancer survivor. She has done some amazing things, for hundreds of people who have been recently diagnosed or are going through treatment. She has helped me immensely with ‘check in’ texts, gluten free meals, emergency tea light purchases and the odd little gift or treat left at my door.

We ate lunch and she shared her story. I’ve always believed there is power in sharing one’s story, as others can find their own story in there as well. Understanding and hope are uniting forces. She shared about the wonderful, life affirming things people did, but she also shared aspects that she didn’t like, that others did, concerning her cancer journey.

I realized I wasn’t alone in my thinking. When she was sharing what people said and did that upset her concerning her cancer diagnosis and treatment, it triggered what I had encountered.

Below I share ten things I, and most other cancer survivors, do not want to hear from you as we go through our cancer journey. I wish for you to learn what not to say, or do, when around a cancer patient/survivor. I don’t share this to be cruel to you or to ‘guilt’ you for your actions, I share this for you to be sensitive. You see, you are not the only person who has done these things that hurt us. When a cancer journey begins, we are bombarded with these happenings. We know there is a desire to connect with us and with that sometimes people say, or do, the inappropriate thing; we are human and we make mistakes. I LOVE and appreciate this desire to connect with me. I share this list for you to be sensitive; my intention is to be strong and win this battle, and I know you wish the same for me.

Ten Things I Don’t Want to Hear from You, or Have You Do, When I am on my Cancer Journey.

1. When I am first diagnosed, I know your intentions are pure and that you want to connect with me in this very difficult situation. But please do not tell me about anyone you know who has died from cancer. I don’t want to hear death stories. I want to focus on life.

2. Chemo is hard and the effects of hair loss are just as hard. Surgery and drugs have altered my body; in fact, there are times I pass by the mirror, and I don’t recognize my body, face or head. So, after I share about losing my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows, I do not want to hear about your ‘nonexistant’ eyebrows and eyelashes. It is not the same.

3. During the chemotherapy treatment my entire body is altered. The powerful drug changes my cells and my blood; side effects are extreme and hard. There are times when my immunity is compromised and I am unable to fight infection (been there, done that!). When I see you, I am VERY happy to see you and wish to hug you (as I am a very affectionate person). However, when I tell you that I am unable to hug you due to my low immunity, please do not hug me anyway, or kiss me on the check as an alternative. Please accept my personal physical boundaries at that time. There is a reason for my distance; my health and healing are dependent on it.

4. If I had my way, I wouldn’t be going through this, but I am, and so I have figured out the best plan for my recovery. For me, I trust the cancer experts that are working with my case. So, please I don’t need you questioning my treatment that the Doctors and I have agreed upon. My Oncologists are experts in this cancer cell field, while you and I are not. For example, I am an Art expert in my classroom, and when I tell a student to alter a section of their image, by doing this and that, to make it more effective, and they do it…guess what? The image is improved and they are happy with the results. Sometimes we need to trust the experts.

I know you don’t want me to go through more than I have to, or suffer any more. You see, in others and me, that this cancer recovery is hard work. I intend to beat it in any way possible, and I am choosing to have chemotherapy, radiation, Herceptin IV treatment for a year, and other medications . I don’t view chemotherapy, Herceptin or radiation as poison. I choose to see it as medicine to help me heal. I choose to see it as on opportunity for my cells and my body to begin again. I see life in this treatment. And yes, life can be hard, but I intend to come out stronger and better.

5. I exercise. I drink diet pop. I each lots of fruits and vegetables and limit my carbs. I love chocolate. With this said, with my diagnosis of cancer, I don’t need you guilting me on my past food, drink and lifestyle choices. You are basically pointing the finger at me and saying “What did YOU do wrong to deserve this?” Again, I know you are trying to figure things out. But it is done; cancer has become a part of my story. I had a fast growing and spreading tumour in me, had it surgically removed and am now undergoing chemo, radiation and another intravenous drug for a year to make sure it doesn’t return. Let’s focus on the positive, on what I am doing well, and leave that negative guilt behind.

6. I know you want to connect with me concerning my diagnosis and treatments, but I don’t want your pity, to be given a pity look or for you say with deep sympathy in your voice, “I’ll pray for you.”  I know cancer is a scary journey and that I can sometimes shock you by my appearance (when I don’t paint the eyebrows in), but I want to see joy in your eyes when you see me. Pity isn’t empowering. If you are going to pity anyone, pity everyone. Everyone is going through his or her own battle. And if you are handing out sympathy prayers, pray for everyone. Everyone has something they struggle with or need. Let’s give strength, hope and love to others when we see them, talk to them and pray for them.

7. Life is wonderful and challenging. Undergoing cancer treatment is no different. But please, don’t look at me with a somber face and say, “It is all in God’s hands.”  Have you already assumed my death sentence? All I know is that I can do my best to fight this disease, and yes, I could die from it. If it is all in God’s hands, let’s focus on the positives that God has given me: doctors, drugs, the Canadian medical system, therapists, friends, family, loving strangers and my will. I am not a mindless or directionless person. What I do has an effect; I choose to be proactive and to be positive. “God is good, God is great…”, but the Almighty also provided all mighty drugs, a personalized treatment plan and an amazing support system for my victory.

8. You know how life can be tiring? When undergoing cancer treatment, my body is being physically transformed, and there are days when I am in survival mode. I still have my concerns of life, but sometimes I can only manage one moment at a time. So, please don’t guilt me by saying, “I worry about you, I’d really like to hear from you more,” or “Did you get my text? You didn’t answer me.” Yes, I got your phone call, card, email, text and/or Facebook message, and I want to connect, but I can’t think straight because of the chemo and my energy is limited.

9. For the caregivers, I know how tired you are. I know you are working full time, are concerned about me and are taking on more of the household duties that I used to do. I see the effects of my treatments and recovery on you, and I wish you didn’t have to carry this burden. And so, I try to help out the best I can, but it is not much. And there are times when I look and sound well, but I’m not. So please know, at this time, I can’t do what I used to do.  I can’t think of what is for dinner tomorrow when I am lying on the bathroom floor, from chemo effects, am in severe pain, and have gotten 1 ½ hours of sleep. I can’t grocery shop, clean the house (not that this was a strong suit before my cancer journey!), take care of you when you are sick ,or go for a night out on the town. I want to be what I was before, but this is what I am now, and I still need your help.

10. I have gone out without wigs/head coverings and makeup, but the majority of time, I put makeup on and choose my favorite crown covering of the moment. I do this for me, not you. For when I look in the mirror, I can quickly glance and see someone who doesn’t look like she has cancer. I know I have makeup on and that this blonde bob is not my hair, but I feel stronger and ‘normally’ healthy. So when you see me don’t’ be surprised when I look good and comment, “Wow, you look good!!!” You and I know treatment is rough, but I work at appearing healthy. I work at pushing myself to go and get the mail, pick up a few groceries etc. I work at painting in my eyebrows, brushing my cheeks to a healthy glow and adding mascara to my 7 remaining eyelashes. I work at having a 5 minute conversation with you when I struggle to put sentences together with my chemo brain.

Thank you for your compliments, just try to hide your surprise.

There, I said it. It was hard for me to write this, as despite what the above list states, I have been completely surrounded by love and support. I shared this with you today because, after talking to another cancer survivor, I realized that these unbeknownst actions and words from others affect the survivor. They have touched me and I try to brush them off, but they are still there. So, the teacher in me decided there needs to be a lesson on this matter. Take what you will. The key is, whether someone is battling cancer, or not, give out love, not fear. Surround them with love, kind actions, and inspiration.

I am interested in your response. For those who have gone through this cancer journey, what do you think? Did I miss any situations that you have gone through, and that you would like to share? With that said, please share it as an opportunity for others to learn and grow from. We are all just doing our best…and when we know better, we do better.

I have so much to be thankful for. Despite me writing this after a very tough night of dealing with chemo effects (days 2 - 5 are the roughest...and I'm into day 5), I have so many blessings. 

This weekend, we Canadians, celebrated Thanksgiving. This is a time for family, food and reflection. For me, this weekend, my chemo effects have been stronger and therefore, I am feeling weaker. So weak, I emailed my siblings my love and told them not to call, and to tell dad (who doesn't do the email thing) I will call him when I am stronger next week. 

I feel I have always been surrounded by love. My parents are the salt of the earth and my older sisters and brother have been a source of guidance, love and support. I shared with them in my email, “People compliment me, but the grace, strength and love they see in me is a reflection of you. Thank you for your love.”  I am blessed.

I feel surrounded by love in my community. My community is full of friends, students and strangers. For example, my FaceBook feed is full of messages of love and support from people I have come in contact with, and those whose physical presence I have yet to encounter. This humbles me and yet fills me with such hope. There is incredible goodness in the world.

This past week, there was a Terry Fox Run that my school annually participates in (for cancer awareness and fundraising). Staff and students ran for me. The Run passed by my house, so I created a sign to thank them for taking the time and effort to contribute to this worthwhile cause. Well, unbeknownst to me, at the time, a sign was created for me as well. A local reporter, from the Advocate, saw the sign at Edwin Parr School and contacted me.

I then shared my love and thankfulness, to her, and from that, to everyone who read the story. I find since my cancer diagnosis, the outpouring of love, concern and support has been incredible. Due to my limited energy, I find myself posting emoji’s, FaceBook ‘likes,’ and the occasional post. My upbringing has me at odds with this, as I wish to respond to every comment on this blog, text message, food package, gift and card I receive.  But I am unable to do this at this time, just like I am unable to hug everyone I come in contact with (due to low immunity). (***Oh, and I DO miss hugging people!***) This limited contact and thanks makes me sad, but I hope you understand.

So, please accept this note, and Advocate article, as a ‘thank you.’  Your kind acts of goodness have power. I am thankful. I am blessed.

Barbara Burns' support
Advocate article written about Barbara Burns' thankfulness for support and love.
Everyone has their moments in life, when they roll their eyes to the sky, or ask themselves, “How do I go on?” It could be because of that frustrating situation at work, a relationship that has you shaking your head and breaking your heart, a financial situation that has you burdened with lack, or a chronic condition (or illness) that consumes your mind, body and spirit. You are at your end and you don’t know what to do; exhaustion and pain fill your entire being.

I have been there, B.C. (before cancer) and now. Currently, after each chemotherapy treatment, around days 3 to 5, I feel that I am losing my mind as sounds, sensations and visuals become too much to take in. In addition to this, my body severely revolts from the chemo. Pain courses through my nerves & muscles, so that the slightest touch is torturous. Breathing becomes tight as the chemo is hitting my lungs.  I am exhausted and drained from the lack of sleep due to chemo effects and anti-nausea medication. My digestive tract screams for relief. And then the growth on my spine (a chronic condition I have had for 10 years) along with the chemo effects, makes it challenging for me to lie down, or sit, for too long, and yet I am too tired to walk. I can’t think and articulating my thoughts and feelings is nearly impossible. I am just trying to survive.

Now here’s the upturn….

Music is a big part of my life. I play music at home, in my classroom and crank it in the car. And when I listen to it, while I am on the treadmill, I become “Super Star, Rock Star, Dancing Machine” (this is the reason why I do not work out in public, but at home!). Just like my eclectic ways of being (an artist, public school teacher, community server and former athlete), I have a varied music selection. The reason I bring this up is because I believe music has power to change your perception of the world. With that said, I have a playlist named Resiliency. It is full of songs I listen to while I drive into chemo, when the growth on my spine is acting up too much, or when I am struggling with the frustrations of treatments (or even life in general!!). Music helps set my mind, soothe my soul and motivates me to take another step.

As I mentioned, chemo is challenging and its effects are compounding as the treatments go on. After one session, in my troublesome day 3-5 time slot, I found myself laying on the bathroom floor, emotionally, mentally and physically hollowed. The world crashed hard.

But I wasn’t alone. I had Katy Perry’s “By the Grace of God” lyrics running through my head, as well as my cat, Mandu, sitting close and watching over me. In the song words like:
‘Running on empty, 
So out of gas, 
Thought I wasn’t enough, 
Found I wasn’t so tough, 
Laying on the bathroom floor…” resonated with me. And from those despairing words, the rest of the song talks about Katy picking herself up and putting one foot in front of the other. I knew if I could just get through that moment, and then the next moment, I could then find myself getting up and moving on.

So, I have had my chemo moments, you have had other flashes, or hot burning coals, that have shaken your essence. Our saving moments, even for atheists, can come ‘By The Grace of God!’  Now, hear me out: The ‘Grace of God’ can be your belief in God or a Higher Power, but it can also be Love… family… friends…. music… or whatever goodness, in this world, that keeps you going.

I encourage you to find your GOoDness that gives you a glimmer of hope. What makes you smile? What makes you feel at peace? What gets your heart racing? Then these are the things you need to focus on, even as a mantra, in those hard moments, to help you see that you are not alone. For me, on that particular instant, it was a song and a concerned cat watching over me while I laid on the bathroom floor.

So what do you think? What GOoDness has helped you work through your tough times? Please share with me. I’m interested in hearing what works for you. I would love to hear from you.

And if you think someone can benefit from this post, please share it with your family, friends and coworkers.

Barbara Burns
Barbara Burns' cat, Mandu, watches over her while she undergoes chemotherapy effects.