Today we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our Feature Girl Warrior, the spirited runner, proud mama of two beautiful children and extraordinary fundraiser, Lise Berube, who along with her friend Grace Lore, launched the Move Because You Can campaign. Born in Edmonton and raised in a close-knit blended French Canadian family, Lise attended Queens University for her undergraduate degree in Sociology. During that time she traveled to over a dozen European countries with friends on a yearly basis. After graduation, she spent a year living and working in Australia, and traveling around New Zealand, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia. Back in Canada she moved to Calgary where she worked in an English as a Second Language School for a year. In 2006 Lise moved to Victoria where she was accepted to a Master’s Degree program in Dispute Resolution at the University of Victoria. She wrote her thesis on inter-cultural conflict, specifically how learning about and immersing ourselves in other cultures can help us be more open to other view points, better equipping us to understand conflict in our own lives. Aside from two years spent in Toronto, Lise has lived in Victoria with her husband and their two young children and currently works as a Patient Safety Consultant at Island Health. In 2016, a few months after her second child was born, she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. She was off work for over a year to complete her maternity leave/sick leave, do all the chemo, radiation, and multiple surgeries, then was considered ‘healthy’, and returned to work in 2017. In late 2018 she began feeling sick with a cough that progressed and got worse over a few months, and by January 2019 she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer that had metastasized to her lungs and pericardium. She has been on chemo ever since, and had brain radiation last spring for progression that led to 5 tumors in her brain. A week after finishing her brain radiation, she ran her first-ever marathon and raised $65,000 for the organization, Callanish Society, which has continuously supported her throughout her cancer journey. In May she ran her second marathon, raising funds once again for Callanish, and this time she invited friends and community members to join in on the fun, and raised over $250,000 through their Move Because You Can fundraiser. And to that we say a loud and victorious YES!
What makes you a Girl Warrior?
Mostly the fact that I have terminal cancer, but I continue to live my life with passion, love, purpose and hope. I think we’re all warriors in some way, but often times the world doesn’t get to recognize it as unique or different. I honestly can’t think of a single girl in my life I wouldn’t consider a Warrior.
How did growing up in a blended family shape your perspective on life?
Having to bounce back and forth between homes definitely helped me learn to be organized and flexible. I also learned that there can be many different “make ups” of happy families – I rarely felt like I was missing out on anything because my parents weren’t together. If anything, I felt lucky because it just meant I had double the homes, double the families, and double the celebrations.
You’ve traveled extensively. If you could pick just one, where’s your favorite place and why?
Impossible. There are just TOO many incredible places in this world. But if I HAD to name a few, it would be Vietnam, or maybe Berlin. I love countries (and cities) that have a juxtaposition of complex and often very tragic histories, rich culture, and vibrant energy – but of course, good food, beaches and warm oceans are always a bonus.
Why did you move to Calgary and what did you learn about yourself from the year you spent there?
I moved to Calgary in 2004 after a year of living in Australia and traveling the world after completing my undergraduate degree in Ontario, for no reason other than I was broke and had no other real plan or place to go. My cousins (also close friends) lived there and had a place for me to stay, and it seemed like a better option than one of my parent’s basements in Edmonton or Vancouver. I found a job working with international students at an ESL school during the day and worked in a local coffee shop on evenings and weekends, and spent the rest of my time partying, skiing, and heading off on adventures any chance I could get. I’m not sure I learned much about myself that year (I wouldn’t say I learned too much about myself at any point in my early 20s – at least that I was aware of at the time), but I sure did have a great time. I guess it helped me realize that it doesn’t really matter much where I live, as long as I have great friends around to have fun with.
How can immersing ourselves in other cultures help us understand conflict in our own lives?
I believe that immersing ourselves in different cultures (especially at a younger age) can help us broaden our understandings of different ‘truths’ and make us better able to understand a variety of perspectives, which can help us understand that the world does not revolve around us. I really think it can help build empathy and in turn help people ‘stand in someone else’s shoes’ when being faced with conflict. I wrote my Master’s thesis on cultural immersion programs for my MA in Dispute Resolution at UVic almost 15 years ago, and while my career took a bit of a different path (I have worked for universities, provincial government, and the last 7 years in health care), this has been (and continues to be) relevant in some way in almost every job I’ve had, as well as in my personal life.
In 2016, not long after the birth of your second child, you were delivered a life-altering diagnosis. How did you survive that year and where did you draw strength?
I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in early 2016 when I was off on maternity leave with my son who was 2 and my daughter who was just shy of 6 months old. We somehow managed to get through the first 6 months of chemo with my husband continuing to work full time and with the help of a babysitter who would come anywhere between 10 to 15 hours a week to cover my treatments, and finally arranged for some part-time daycare later that year. Throughout August and part of September I had radiation every single weekday for 7 weeks, and I would just drop the kids off with friends for an hour here and there when I didn’t have anyone else to watch them. I am so grateful for my friends and family who traveled to visit for weekends or weeks at a time and helped me with all the logistics, and we were able to just piece it all together. I continued with some chemo until the following spring and had multiple surgeries over that time period as well. Although there were some months where it really felt like we were just “surviving” and trying to get by one day at a time, there were also many periods where we traveled, took vacation, and tried to live as “normally” as possible throughout the treatments. Because my cancer was stage 3 at that point, it was still considered curable, and I really approached everything with the mentality that this was just a bump in the road, and that we would get through it (the odds of 5-year survival for stage 3 breast cancer are relatively good, at around 72%). I don’t think I really appreciated how exhausting that year was until we were out of it, but unfortunately by the time I really felt like my energy had fully returned, I was just beginning to see the early signs and symptoms that led to my next diagnosis.
In 2019 you were diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer that had metastasized. For those of us who don’t fully understand the term, what does it mean medically and how did you cope emotionally and spiritually receiving the news?
Metastatic breast cancer means the cancer has spread beyond the breast and axillary lymph nodes into other organs in the body. Stage 4 breast cancer is not curable, and the median survival is about 3 years (with a 5-year survival rate of about 22%). My cancer has spread to my lungs, my pericardium (the lining around my heart), and my brain.
Hearing the news of this diagnosis was devastating (as was every progression and news of further spread). It felt completely surreal, like there had just been some big mistake made in the universe. There is no sugar coating it, it is about as big a blow as you can get in the cancer world. I have coped the best I can through reaching out for support (Callanish Society being a huge part of that – more on them below), leaning on my friends to share my fears and grief, and making sure I am living as much as I can while I am still alive. Young kids are also excellent motivators to ‘be in the moment’, and help me stay present and focus on taking things one day at a time (i.e. Tantrums need to be dealt with NOW, and having little beings who are fully dependent on you for their survival can really help shift your focus to the present).
What is the Callanish Society?
Callanish is an amazing small grass-roots non-profit organization that was founded in 1995 by a few incredible women. They began holding retreats for people living with and dying from cancer, and since then, the Callanish community has continued to evolve organically, responding to the needs of its members and guided by intuitive leadership. They hold 4 week-long retreats per year, and have added several support programs including a weekly meditation and council, writing groups, art groups, as well as grief and supporter programs, to name a few. Callanish is the only program of its kind in Canada, and has been such a huge support and source of hope and peace for me over the past 3 years.
Tell us about your ‘Move Because You Can’ fundraiser and how this empowers you?
Move Because You Can was such an uplifting endeavor for me this spring. Last year, after finding out about the cancer spreading to my brain at the end of February, I decided to train for a marathon, and then due to more progression in my lungs, I ended up running it sooner than planned. My friend Grace and I ran our own independent marathon on May 1st, and we raised $65,000 for Callanish throughout the week leading up to our run.
Since I’ve been lucky enough to have relatively stable scans since last summer, we decided we would do another marathon again this year, again with the intention to raise funds for Callanish, and this time we invited others to join in on the fun and efforts. Throughout March and April in collaboration with the small but mighty team of Callanish staff, we gathered over 300 friends from across Canada (and a few across oceans) who joined in on this ‘movement’. On May 8th, together we covered enough mileage to surpass Canada from East to West coast, and we raised over $262,000. It was so incredible to see so many people “come together” in spirit for such a great cause, even though we couldn’t be together in person. The excitement and momentum of the fundraising and the run helped me immensely to stay motivated and encouraged through these dreary late winter months of Covid, chemo, and never-ending “scan-xiety”.
How has running marathons been an important part of your health journey?
I think I am a bit inclined towards doing things people think are a bit crazy or not achievable – like when I signed up to race in my first sprint triathlon when I was 8 months pregnant with my second child (35 weeks to be exact). More than a few people suggested this might not be a wise idea and advised it could be risky for myself, and the baby. I ended up placing first in my age category, and gave birth 5 weeks later to a perfect healthy 8-pound baby girl in our bedroom at home.
When I found out my cancer had spread to my brain, I just felt inclined to do something else that most people would think was a bit ‘crazy’ or unachievable, and to again break those norms of what should be “expected” of a terminal cancer patient, or a ‘close to full term’ pregnant woman. I also wanted to prove to myself that my body still ‘worked’ and that I was still strong. Running has helped me immensely over the past 5 years of living through cancer. It provides a huge stress relief, gives me energy, keeps me feeling strong and healthy, and acts as a sort of ‘moving meditation’ in my otherwise often busy days.
What do we need to know “for sure” about movement and healing?
Personally, I know I just feel better in every way when I am active. Since dealing with my cancer diagnosis and progressions, I am even more aware of how running and exercise alters my emotional state. When things have been really tough, like while awaiting results, after news of progression or the death of dear friends, I’ve been able to notice a clear difference in how I feel before vs. after a run. There is a lot of research around exercise and cancer, chemotherapy, and well, exercise and illness in general, so I’ll save myself from trying to explain something completely out of my field, but for me movement and activity are a key aspect to maintaining a good quality of life, both physically and emotionally. Movement is a very useful tool I have in my toolbox, and so I will continue to use it while I can.
What would you say to your younger Girl Warrior?
Probably something along the lines of ‘get a prophylactic mastectomy’ before you turn 30… Also, don’t worry about what other people think.
What would you say to future Girl Warriors looking for inspiration?
Life is short. Whatever you’re worrying about now is probably not worth worrying about. Do not wait for things to be perfect, there really is no time like the present. If you wait until things are easy before you decide to be happy, it will likely never happen. Take the risks, do the things, go for it. Really, what’s the worst that could happen?
Who is/are your Girl Warrior hero(s) and why?
Most of my heroes are my friends. The real people who I know well and can relate to, and who show up in their lives with courage, with humility, and who are able to be present for all the hard shit while still keeping things in perspective and laughing at themselves along the way. I am also always in complete awe and humbled by people who have faced such unimaginable hardships in life, and yet continue to live with gratitude and kindness (Girl Warriors, Boy Warriors, and anything in between or neither/nor Warriors).
A blue sky question we ask our Girl Warriors is where you see yourself in 5 years. What’s your perspective on that?
Honestly, my 5-year goal is to still be alive. Ideally also still healthy enough to have a good quality of life and be present for my kids. Having a terminal disease really puts a damper on any long-term goals or plans, but also puts a big spotlight on what really matters. I turn 40 this summer, and while I sometimes resent having to feel this way, I really do feel grateful that I get to see 40.
What makes you laugh uncontrollably? Cry out all the tears?
My friends, my family, my kids (for both questions). I’m a pretty easy audience when it comes to laughing, but nothing makes me cry (tears of complete overwhelming beautiful real emotion) like watching people overcome crazy odds or persevere through difficult situations to triumph and come out stronger in the end. I’ll probably be crying anytime I see 80 year olds cross a finish line in a race, even if they’re the last ones there (but honestly I’ll cry for almost any age group at a finish line). I get emotional watching people muster up the courage to take on a difficult situation and stand up for what is right. Random acts of kindness also tend to get me to tear up.
How do you stay so positive and upbeat?
I don’t. Like everyone, I have my moments (and days) of extreme anxiety, fear, and sadness when life’s challenges just feel like too much to bear. I let those feelings exist as they need to, and then I recognize that it does me no good to stay stuck in that place and I do what I need to do to process them, and then move on (knowing I may have to revisit them over and over again). Sometime it’s just taking the time to process, sometimes it’s going for a run or a great yoga class, sometimes it’s meeting up with friends for a glass (or bottle) of wine, sometimes it’s leaning on the support of Callanish, and sometimes it’s just taking things one day at a time and remembering to be present in my life. But at the end of the day, I know that being stuck in a place of fear and sadness does me no service. So I make the CHOICE to take the next step, whatever it may be, and to live my life with gratitude and hope.
Describe yourself in five words.
Genuine, Reliable, Vivacious, Personable, Optimistic Realist.
If a novel were written about your life, what would it be called?
I have no idea, but I sure hope I’m still alive to read it one day!
To learn more about Lise and Move Because You Can head over to the website: https://www.movebecauseyoucan.ca/
And to learn more about the Callanish Society go to the website: https://www.callanish.org/