Finding Beauty in the Ordinary
barbara burnsBarbara Burns and #iseehearts
I haven’t shared with you in a very long time. I needed to step away and deal, as well as try to heal, what was happening in my life. I was not well. One Doctor shared that the breast cancer was a tipping point in my life. Before the cancer, and during the treatments and journey, I was, and am, dealing with a growth on my L5 that impedes the nerves that exit that point, as well as gastrointestinal issues due to the nerve damage. On top of that, I was, and am, dealing with mobility issues and severe chronic pain due to the L5 impediment. And on top of this, for a month, this past summer, I was admitted to the University of Alberta for care and treatment.  I have been ruthlessly challenged in all aspects of my being: mind, body and soul.

And now, here I am. Surgery, done and still healing! Internal bleeding, done! Chemotherapy, done! Radiation, done! Radiation ‘boosters,’ done! Tamoxifen pill #1 reaction, done! Tamoxifen new pill #2 reaction, done! Tamoxifen pill #3, from the US, works! I will be on Tamoxifen for 5 – 10 years. IV Herceptin treatment, for a year, every three weeks, is done this Thursday (20th)! Am I healed? No. But I see October 21st as the beginning of my healing and recovery from cancer. Why? It is because my body now only has to deal with one cancer treatment in my system (Tamoxifen).  This is awesome!!! Let the healing begin!!!

In a weird way, I am grateful for this journey. I have witnessed and received your incredible love and support. You have no idea the impact you have had on me. The power of a kind word, photo sent my way, hearts shared, sidewalk shoveled, meals prepared, rides to treatment, gifts of love given, time spent with me, artwork & heartfelt cards provided, and so much more.  I have been overwhelmed with your caring spirit and reinforcement. As much as my body had to endure the cancer treatments and all of their effects alone, I knew you were always there for me. Never underestimate the power of your love.

So, here I am….and soon, it seems like I will be out and about, in a BIG way…

On October 27th, in three incredible and wonderful ways, I will be part of Fashion With Compassion (a fundraiser for Compassion House where I stayed for 31 days while undergoing radiation treatment). I would love to have you there with me!!!

For those that don’t know, Compassion House is similar to Ronald McDonald’s House, but Compassion House is for rural women fighting cancer.  Five-star accommodation, comfort and support is provided, as well as, a shuttle to and from the Cross Cancer Institute. Having stayed at Compassion House, it saved me thousands of dollars in transportation, hotel & restaurant costs. Staying there also saved my body the ‘wear and tear’ of travelling, and since I was stronger, it helped me handle the radiation treatment better. I am helping with Compassion House’s fundraiser (Fashion With Compassion) because it is important and necessary to keep Compassion House’s doors open.

So with that said, I am gladly supporting Fashion With Compassion, in three ways. Melissa Kraft, the Executive Director of Compassion House, asked me to help in two ways with the production of the Luncheon and Gala. The third way is a very personal and meaningful gift from me. 

Model in the Fashion Show
  • I will be a ‘special’ model for the Fashion With Compassion Show.  In this top notch and professional fashion show, there will be a small and special segment with 20 former Compassion House residents. And I will be one of them!
  •  And yes, I will be wearing heels!!! With this being reality, on October 27th, and in front of 1,400 people, I’ve been practicing walking in my glittery silver shoes! On that day, I will also be blinged out by Hillberg & Berk and be wearing a GOWN (!!!) courtesy of Laura Fashions. And to top it all off, my hair and makeup will be done by Ricci Hair Co.

Video featuring me
  • I will be in a short video. In this video, I share one of my journal entries I wrote after I got home from Compassion House. This video will also show me at home, in my art studio, the school where I taught Art (before my cancer journey), and driving in the ‘Whispering Hills’ of Athabasca & County. This is a very personal, and real, footage of me and my journey.
  • The reason for this video was confirmed after I presented to the Compassion House Executives and Board Members. In my presentation to them, I shared one of my blog entries and my journey after I left Compassion House. The Executive and Board members understand the challenges rural women face medically, financially, mentally, emotionally and physically; they wish to target some of the money raised from the Luncheon and Gala to support former Compassion House residents on their journey after they leave Compassion House. 

Artwork, by me, is for sale

Thank you again for your love and support. There were times I was overcome by all the treatments and their effects. But I took each email, text, card, gift and more, from you, to my heart; I felt your love in my mind, body and soul. You have helped me on this cancer journey. The gifts of your Light and Love blessed my Life. 

Barbara Burns and hearts
Yesterday, artist Barbara Burns and #iseehearts from the arena parking lot.
I see hearts in objects around me. I’ll be walking around my classroom, or strolling downtown, and I’ll see a heart shaped object in a blob of paint or mound of snow. I can’t remember the first time I became aware of these heart shaped visions, but they have continued to come into my life at a very steady stream. And not just a few hearts, but a great deal and often. And so I take pictures of them (well, okay, most of them), and I share the occasional one on my FaceBook page and on my webpage.

With this sharing, others have become aware of my affinity of seeing hearts. And so, people have shared their own happenstances of hearts: in nature, on animals and even on burned knees and bruises. It always makes me smile as others bring these hearts to me with such joy.

With my radiation treatments, that had me away from home for 31 days, and my exhaustion from treatments, I took a hiatus from FaceBook (November to the end of January). When I returned to my page, I was overcome with an incredible emotion. In addition to a Buddhist temple blessing from a friend across the world, I received countless visuals of love and motivation on FaceBook. But the cherry on top of the cake, and the one that had the tears flowing was a continuous stream of hearts. As I kept scrolling down my page, there were 40 posts, from 40 different people, of hearts they had found in their life or images they found of hearts in nature.

Thank you for this gift of love. You will never realize how I felt completely surrounded in love by these kind gestures of remembrance. I am touched that so many of you are now seeing hearts in your life, but I feel blessed in the fact that you think of me with such love that you send me your hearts. 


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           P.S. Later this year, I will be posting ‘Guest Heart Finders’ on my page. It seems only natural to spread the love.
I've been on the 'down-low' due to cancer treatment recovery,  but was reminded of the joy of skating outside when, on Christmas Day, I could see the neighbourhood outdoor rink full of swirling skating bodies.  I was not on the ice this Christmas, but with my Doctor's 'okay,' I intend to purchase some skates (and equipment) and play on the ice again. 

All of this wonderfully coincides with the NHL's Winter Classic on New Year's Day. So in honour of the Winter Classic and to how it began for me, and so many others, here is the ArtWork & Words of The Joy of It
The Joy of It by Barbara Burns
The Joy of It artwork by Barbara Burns.
The Joy of It

I started skating when I was two years old. In the back lot, between the rows of houses, there was a dug out piece of earth that would be filled with water every October. The Winnipeg Winter would arrive and the frozen water would become my rink. 

The rink was only a hundred feet from my home.  The number of shovels left behind with my last name on it, and the fact that my brother and I were always on the ice, it was known, in the neighborhood, as the “Burns’ Rink.”  It also happened to be named that because my home was the place for the neighborhood kids to layer their clothes, warm up, tend to injuries and put on, and take off, their bladed shoes.  My mom would position a kitchen chair, in the small back entrance, so one could tie up their skates (but it also created a protective barrier to the waxed kitchen floor).  Often there was an overflow of friends, wanting to play on the ice, and they would sit on the stairs, heading down to our rec room, to tie their skates.

The winters were cold and the ice was hard.  My eyelashes were hanging posts for icicles and my nose, ears, hands and feet were numb. And despite the freezing temperatures and clouded breath, my spirit ran fully on the ice (as well as my nose).

On the ice, time stood still and I would find myself in another world.  And yet, the whoops of joy and sounds of competition were heard throughout the neighborhood as everyone battled for the imaginary prize.  And if you were closer, you could hear the cut of an edge and the spray of shaved ice.

There were times when others had to go home (because it was dinner time or it was too cold outside), and I was alone on the ice. The rink was a place where I lost time, all my senses seemed alive and every emotion was fully felt.  My actions were ruled by my intuition and not by rules. Every time on the ice, I challenged my skills and asked “what if…?”  And it seemed like there were no boundaries, but only possibilities.

My body has changed as I have a growth on my spine. I miss the ice. I miss the ice a great deal.  With all the emotions I experienced on the ice, one emotion tied this entire experience of time, space and sensation together, and it was joy.  The lessons I learned on the ice, still carry me today.  I know that I need to nurture whatever activity or pursuit that encourages me to feel at home, and that cheers me on to reach for my best.  I truly believe we can change the world when we are, at home, in the joy of it.


If you are interested in this ArtWork & Words, by me, or any other works, please feel free to contact me!  Enjoy the game!

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.

So often we want to know the final outcome and to 'know things for sure' before we risk. There will be times when we will have those 'know for sure' moments and times where we just need to take that first step.  Life is full of magic; the key is to show up and to be open to whatever comes our way. Yes, we can direct our own sails, but there are times when life can throw us a curve ball, and we just need to see the possibilities and not the "oh, sh*t!"

So, as I share the written words on this #ArtWork&Words piece below,  I encourage you to see the magic in the knowing and in your unknowing. You may be surprised...

"There is magic in the there is comfort and assurance of the next step on our path. The knowing of our abilities, of our strengths and our weaknesses can give rise to growth of our essence.
There is magic in the there is excitement and dreams of hope in the unwritten vastness. The knowing of choice, possibilities and summits can give rise to the progression of 'us.'
Allowing the unknown creep into the known and the knowing of the unknowing...there is magic."

Light and Love to you all.  And if you feel inclined, I would love to hear from you about how you deal with the known and unknown!

(Side/post-note: Every now and again, a word reappears in my life. Being an artist, I am always aware of symbols and things/words that catch my eye/heart! The word 'magic' has come in, and out of my life, many times. The above #TBT #ArtWork&Words was created in 2006. This past month, the word 'magic' has made its presence known ,and to coincide with this fact, I am creating a new #ArtWork&Words piece. ***beaming***  Is there a word or 'thing' that keeps popping up in your world?  What do you do with it?). 
PictureNow Be Present by Barbara Burns
This work is a visual reminder. Sometimes life can be busy and we need to remind ourselves to slow down. One moment rushes into another, we drive away from the house and ask ourselves, "Did I close the garage door?," and we find ourselves harried in our movements and emotions. Sound familiar? 

The feeling of strained and flustered moments in our days are the norm for most people. We find ourselves continually connected (via Twitter, texts et al), and our days begin with a list of expectations and things to do.  Every instant is planned for us, through work or people in our lives, or by us. We can feel like we have lost control of our lives.

It may be hard to believe, but we do have the opportunity to regain our power. We have the tendency to live too much in the past or the future, and not enough in the now. All we have is right now...this moment, this instant, this second. (and I thank you for reading this, at this time...***smile***). It is said, that those who have had successful moments/highlights in sports/work/life, have all mentioned the concept of 'being in the zone;' it is where their concentration and presence is so clear, at that moment, that everything else disappears, time moves more slowly, and their sixth sense is so attuned to what their next move should be. When we are singularly focused, great things can happen.

How can we help ourselves to get into "the zone?"  Here are some tools that have helped me:
  1. Take care of yourself: when our bodily needs are in balance, our mind and emotions can handle the stressors of the moment better. So, eat well.... sleep well. 
  2. Find time to relax: by resting our body and mind, we can assimilate new ideas and handle life's ups and downs in a healthier manner. So, take a breather.
  3. Get out and play: play is the most under utilized stress reliever and natural life upper. We make 'life' and living a serious thing; it doesn't have to be this way. Some of the greatest inventions, art and movements in history were created from the act of play. Play has no expectations and only joy in it; it is the seed to 'something wonderful is about to happen.'
  4. Create a mantra: a mantra is a saying we can repeat to ourself, over and over again. If we find yourself feeling harried, say out loud (or, if we are around others, silently say) our mantra. i.e. "Now...Be Present." Have a word, or short saying, that brings you back to this moment.
  5. This too shall pass: sometimes things, people or situations can be overwhelming, and we can forget that this is just a fraction of our life. So, stay calm and carry on.
  6. Listen to yourself: your intuition (also known as your 'gut reaction' or 'sixth sense') knows what it is saying. Most often we get into trouble when we don't follow our hunches and instincts. Trust what you feel and go with that. 
  7. Present your best self: every 'now' we encounter, gives us the opportunity to be our best for ourselves, for the people we are with, for our work and more. This life is full of fractions of time, and yet in each fraction, we can change the direction of our lives. The key is to give our this instant. 

So, what works for you? How do you get 'back to centre,' or find peace in your life?

(Note about above ArtWork & Words: In February 2013, my guide on "How to Create a Wet on Wet Watercolour" was featured in the Snapguide App. This work was the end result. (P.S. Thank you Snapguide executives for choosing to feature this in their Arts and Crafts section).

On April 15, 22 and 29th, come on out and play!!  This is your opportunity to learn some simple, easy and fun art techniques.  No experience is necessary, just the willingness to try and play. The great thing is that, at the end of the 3 weeks, you will end up with your life lessons on funky art pieces you created...AND  one piece  (anonymous or not) posted on the website!  (P.S. At this time, this workshop is for anyone over 18 years old).

Interested?  See below, and then RSVP me!
How often are you bored, or feeling 'off,' and instead of dealing with the reasons why you are 'off,' you ignore it and turn to other ways to  fill the discontent you feel inside? I say,"Yep...been there...done that!" 

This #TBT #Artwork&Words is about being emotionally hungry  and trying to fill it by other means. We can fill ourselves with eating, drinking, having sex, trying to find pleasure, sleeping it away, and even striving to fulfill our dreams. (In fact, I know I have used all of the above...thus, the art work!!). Written on this piece I wrote, "This strong emotion of 'want' is often not a 'need.' I'm looking to be filled. Trying to fill the emptiness...a boredom...a self-hatred...a discontent that I feel inside."  

It can all start from feeling out of sorts, or not being happy in the present moment, or even knowing 'something is missing' in our lives. From this point, we then try to satisfy ourselves with an object, person or activity that will temporarily quench our desire/want. I find this works, for a moment, or even moments (i.e. days/months/years), and then we see that this longing is truly something deeper.

People have always resonated with this ArtWork&Words, because I think it speaks a truth we often try to hide. What has helped me over the years is to see that I am a human and to err is human; to know that I have not always responded to my emptiness, boredom, self-hatred or discontent in the most positive way!  I have also come to know that I need to truly listen to my heart and be true to my deeper longings that I may be ignoring. 

And then, with that said, eating, drinking, having sex, sleeping and meeting my goals are very pleasurable!!!! I now try to savour them, not out of a way to be filled, but to  enjoy them for the pleasures of life!

I'd love to hear your comments! How do you fill yourself up when you are bored or unhappy? Or what spoke to you the most about this ArtWork&Words?
As I was clearing out my basement treasures (a.k.a accumulated clutter), I found some treasures. The image above, which I call Winner, is a drawing I created while I was in High School. It was based on another person's drawing/print that was framed in my parent's house; in fact, they still have it...somewhere.  I don't know the artist's name or the name of the horse.  All I remember is that it was a Kentucky Derby winner and that my parents love the memories of their youth with their horses.

I remember going out to my grandparents ranch, in the Cypress Hills, when I was younger. My grandfather, Dooley, managed a ranch that was 177,000 acres, while my grandmother, Myrtle, maintained the 'machine' (i.e. feeding themselves and their workers, while cleaning the living quarters and the clothes).  My grandma had many gardens; one of the gardens was the size of a football field, as she had to plant, grow, harvest, can and cook the food everyone ate).  In fact, my grandpa's job was so important, that when the call of war came, in World War Two, he was informed that he needed to stay and work the land and animals to help the cause; he was very disappointed in this request, but my grandma was very pleased with this news.

So, when I look at this image, I see my history.  It is the tie to the land as well as the strength, power, pride and tenacity that runs in my veins.  Being a 'winner' isn't necessarily who comes first, but that quiet, intense presence that shows up everyday and does the best they can do.  There is power in this.