TORONTO — About a year and a half after starting treatment for breast cancer, Vancouver rocker Bif Naked says she’s feeling physically strong and psychologically free.
“It’s almost like from there to here, everything’s easy. Everything’s easy now,” the Juno winner, whose real name is Beth Torbert, said in a recent interview to promote her sixth album, The Promise, recorded during chemotherapy. The disc drops May 5.
“You get a little bit of a sense of ‘pshaw’ about all the stresses in life and that’s something that’s pretty cool.”
Up until her diagnosis, which she publicly announced in January 2008, the tattooed singer-songwriter — adopted in India and raised in Winnipeg — kept a stringent eating and workout regimen: Only raw, vegan food and mounds of exercise that produced a chiselled body that would make even pop-workout queen Madonna jealous.
“I was incredibly rigid almost to the point of being almost self-righteously stubborn about it, about my eating and my health and my training regimen,” Torbert, 37, said in a hotel room, a black porkpie hat covering her now-short locks.
“I wasn’t a triathlete but I … trained like one.”
Chemotherapy and radiation sessions, of course, forced her to ease up.
Faced with a voracious appetite and constant nausea, Torbert couldn’t be as selective about meals.
“The first time I went into something called neutropenia, which is where your white blood cell count plummets in between chemos — partly because the chemo is working — I became hungry like I’ve never been in my life,” she said. “I was so ravenously hungry.”
Torbert still works out seven days a week and has maintained her vegan diet, but she said she’s “learned to be a little more chilled out” about those things as she continues to go through preventative procedures, including an ovariectomy, which she announced she was having on her website.
“I’m not going to get upset if I have a couple tablespoons of quinoa in my salad, for example. Something that small, I never used to do. Never.”
Torbert’s treatment has also included surgery to remove the lump in her breast and a national clinical trial called CARE in which she and 30 other women exercised while undergoing chemotherapy so doctors could measure their bone density.
“We were a posse,” said Torbert. “We did Run for the Cure together and everybody was in a different stage of their treatment so you know, we could all compare notes and kind of talk about stuff and it was amazing. ”
“It was psychologically integral, I think, for all of us. It was just great to have that built-in support network of other people who were in the trenches with you.”
Torbert — whose past hits include Spaceman and I Love Myself Today — said she wanted to release an album in 2009 even before she was diagnosed, and she wasn’t going to let chemotherapy get in the way of her goal.
The title, The Promise, reflects her determination to do the album.
Torbert recorded the tracks in her personal studio that her managers moved a block away from her condo to make it easier to access. Jason Darr produced.
When she had the energy to make the trek up the hill that led to the studio, Torbert put her best face forward in case she was recognized.
“I got wigs from the old lady department at The Bay. Blond, Lady Diana wigs. They’re beautiful. They’re stunning. I love them,” she said smiling.
“All the ladies in the grocery store who saw me every morning at eight when it opened, they’d go: ‘Oh, I love that wig.’ . . . and I put spackle on every day. ”
“Every day I still had eyelashes like Tammy Faye Bakker. Once my eyelashes fell out I just made marks. I put so much makeup on every day to cover the jaundice.”