CATHERINE BRITT | Getting on With Life
It’s not unusual for a person who has survived cancer to say they are taking things one day or one step at a time. Of course, it is not surprising that when that person is Newcastle singer-songwriter Catherine Britt, those steps are taken at a gallop. (Image: Brent Leggett (Ignite Marketing), Makeup Amy: Butterworth (Dunn & Dusted), Hair: Des Dunn (The Fox Den), Location: The Knowledge Tree @ Wickham)
The country music star is coming off the back of a rollercoaster 12 months that began with the discovery of pre-cancerous cells in her cervix and will end this month with a string of concerts celebrating her fight against, and triumph over, breast cancer.
In between there were plenty of highs – launching and touring her album Boneshaker, getting married to husband James Beverley, an ARIA nomination and her third Female Artist of the Year award at the Golden Guitars.
But there were also plenty of lows, brought on by her diagnosis with stage two breast cancer last May, which required a lumpectomy to remove a large tumour. This was followed by months of chemotherapy, which she finished on January 5 this year and four weeks of radiation therapy during February.
It was a scary and overwhelming time for Britt, but one that she tackled in an open and honest way, with her trademark sunny smile still plastered across her face. “You don’t have a choice, you just have to get your head around it somehow,” she said. “I’d never had an operation, especially a major operation like that. When I was diagnosed with the breast cancer, I’d also just previously been diagnosed with pre-cervical cancer so I had to get a LLETZ procedure as well, which meant it was quite a recovery.
“That was the scariest part for me, definitely, the operation, I was literally in the bed shaking and they were trying to calm me down because I’d just never been in that situation before and I had no idea what it felt like to go to sleep and to wake up. “That was a lot to get my head around, but you just do, so all of a sudden I was asleep and all of a sudden you’re awake and you’re ok and you’re moving on and every day is a new challenge.
“Then it’s chemo for the first time, which was another whole degree of getting your head around something, especially when they’re suiting up and putting masks and gloves on to put it into you and you’re like, ‘What? This is going into my veins, so why are you so protected?’
“But you’ve got to get on with it and you’ve got to keep a smile on your face as best you can and my main objective through all of it was to be as positive as possible and try to get through it as well as possible.
“That’s all you can do, you don’t have a choice.”
Finally free of the disease and excited about the prospect of not having to spend any more time in the hospital, Britt is now turning her attention to an idea she first conceived not long after her diagnosis – saying “F U Cancer” the only way she knows how … through music. (Left Catherine & Husband James)
It began with a very special “F U Cancer” song penned at Britt’s request by her friend Beccy Cole, with the help of Lyn Bowtell, on their way to this year’s Country Music Festival in Tamworth.
“It was kind of an idea I’ve been building up for a long time, as soon as I got diagnosed and got over the initial shock of it all I started planning what to do,” Britt said.
“That kind of gives you an insight into the wonderful craziness that is me, can’t slow down, just kind of wanted to make it as big and wonderful as possible, that’s my goal.
“So I approached Beccy about it and said ‘This is what I want to do, can you help me?’ and she’s like ‘I’m on it’ and all of a sudden I got a text with a little voice memo of the song on it and it made me cry, it was so funny and so good.
“I think that song is more an angry ‘why me?’ as well as it being for all the people out there who have had to deal with what I have had to deal with, which was like ‘I know how you feel, it totally sucks’.
“It was kind of like an anthem really in all those aspects.”
And now the concept it going on the road with four very special “F U Cancer” shows during April and May in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and, of course, a hometown gig in Newcastle.
Britt has assembled an incredible array of artists to take part in various shows, including Josh Pyke, Troy Cassar-Daley, Shannon Noll, Busby Marou, Wendy Matthews, Wes Carr, Ellie Drennan, Lloyd Spiegel and Danny Widdicombe.
When the tour wraps up at Wests New Lambton on Sunday, May 1, it will feature the trio behind the song – Britt, Cole and Bowtell - as well as special guest Kasey Chambers.
"This tour is about raising awareness, but it’s also a celebration of life and a celebration of survival and a celebration of fighting."
“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate it all being over and getting on with it and trying to find a cure and all sorts of things, than with music and friends.
“For me it’s the perfect solution, I’m really looking forward to it, we’ve got some amazing people on board and we keep bringing more and more people on board all the time.”
Among those of course is Cole, who first met Britt when the Novocastrian was an 11-year-old fan who came backstage at a concert with her father, who worked for a local radio station.
The women last toured together in 2012 when Britt opened Cole’s Songs and Pictures tour, and Cole said she was only too happy to return the favour for the “F U Cancer” shows.
“Catherine has extraordinary talent, as an artist, she is real, authentic. Her writing is brave, clever and heart-wrenching at times,” Cole said.
“I have been so impressed by the hard work and dedication to her craft for many years and as a person, she is sweet, funny, deep and generous. There was no hesitation to support CB in these concerts, we are friends and I am here for her.
“We have all been touched by this horrible disease and are well aware of the suffering it causes. There is satisfaction in the solidarity of joining together and giving cancer the collective middle finger.
“By CB sharing her experience and taking this concept on the road, it will empower others, it will give hope and strength - both incredibly healing powers in the battle against cancer.
“Catherine's bravery was already in place, you just need to listen to her lyrics to understand her strength, she is kicking cancer’s arse, she is a pioneer, a very important role model for us all.”
Kasey Chambers was another artist all too ready to jump on board to show her support for her friend.
“I’ve known Catherine since she was a young teenager singing for the first time. We’ve toured together, recorded together, written songs together and also been through a lot of ups and downs in our personal lives together,” Chambers said. “It’s hard to see friends go through tough times but it brings out the deepest strengths and that’s certainly what we’ve seen in Catherine.
“I’m feeling very honoured to be a part of this special night in May. Beyond helping to raise money and awareness, I love being a part of ‘music’ bringing people together and being a healer of its own. It’s going to be an amazing night!”
A number of the artists supporting Britt on the tour have also got together to record a re-worked version of “F U Cancer”, which will help raise funds for the McGrath Foundation.
Britt said it was her way of giving back to the McGrath Foundation nurses who were there to help her through the darkest times during her diagnosis and treatment.
“The McGrath nurses are such a huge part of breast cancer and when you get diagnosed they’re really a big part of your recovery and helping you through that,” Britt said.
“For me, they were a big influence on me so I was really glad when they came on board (with the tour) because I wanted to give back to them a little bit. “So we’ll have nurses at the show, which will be wonderful as we’ll get to thank them personally.
“Part of the ticket sales will go to the McGrath Foundation and we’ll have bucket shakers on the night as well if people want to chuck in a couple of extra dollars towards the McGrath Foundation.
“It’s going to be pretty special, I’m really looking forward to it.”
For someone who has been passionate about music since she was a young child, it’s little wonder that Britt says she turned to it when times were tough.
“I really didn’t want (cancer) to mess with my life, to take over and become me,” she said. “I’d read a lot of stuff about patients kind of getting really wrapped up in their diagnosis and going to the hospital all the time and it sort of overtakes their life. “So I was really conscious of that and not wanting to let it happen, I really wanted to keep my life going as much as I possibly could and not let it interfere.
"I got diagnosed on Monday and had a gig on Wednesday, I just got on with it."
“Once you get diagnosed you don’t actually know what that means, you don’t know what it is until they go in and take it out. So I could have sat around and worried about it or I could have gone out on tour and finished the tour.
“So that’s what we did, we did 10 days in Queensland on the Boneshaker Tour and kept going.
“It was a nice distraction, it was really good not to think about it all the time, even though you are thinking about it all the time. When I was on stage, I got lost every now and again and actually forgot, it was just really nice to forget about it. “So I really, really appreciated music during that time… well, it’s always been, my saviour.”
Music will certainly provide plenty of avenues to take Britt’s mind off the inevitable doubts and fears that plague any person who has been in a battle with cancer and won.
Aside from the upcoming tour, Britt and her husband are also still getting their heads around their recent purchase of respected music publication Rhythms Magazine, which they will run together.
After a turbulent 12 months, Britt said she is now ready to move on and make the most out of every day.
“My life at the moment is very much a rollercoaster and it has been all along but it’s a different rollercoaster now, it’s like an after-the-storm-passes rollercoaster,” she said.
“It’s ‘oh my God I’m free, I don’t have to go to the hospital anymore’ highs to ‘oh my God, I’m scared to death and what if it comes back’ lows, so it’s a pretty tough road ahead but it’s also a really exciting one.
“The chances of it coming back are pretty slim but we all know that they’re there, that’s how it goes, so if I can get through those first five to seven years without anything coming back then I’ll be sweet.
“But you can’t live your life in fear either and that’s something I’m trying to get my head around because it’s definitely something people find really hard to deal with, after going through surviving cancer and surviving the diagnosis, is how to get on with your life without fear and living in fear constantly.
“They put you with a pretty wonderful team of people, psychologists and doctors and everyone who works with you to try and make that as easy as possible so I’ve got an amazing team around me who are really making it as easy as possible for me, so I’m really grateful for that.
“I’m just taking one day at a time, putting one foot in front of the other.
“I always was one to live life to the fullest but boy, it’s really more than ever now and we certainly do that every day, I don’t waste a day on this Earth at all and I don’t take it for granted.”
You can read more about Catherine, her music and tour dates at www.catherinebritt.com