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Gill Deacon: Naked Imperfection

Gill Deacon: <I>Naked Imperfection</I>

Gill Deacon is the personality that helps Torontonians make sense of the news of the day and the arts and music of Toronto as host of Here and Now on CBC Radio One. Gill has just released her new memoir, Naked Imperfection, which chronicles her battle with breast cancer:

Gillian Deacon was a good girl — good in the sense that she lived a life as environmentally and politically correct as anyone could. The author of two books on the environment — There’s Lead in Your Lipstick and Green for Life, Deacon ate organic vegetarian food, rode her bike, walked her kids to school, and used cloth diapers when they were babies. She was the golden girl of the “green” movement.

So when Deacon, currently host of CBC Toronto’s afternoon radio show Here and Now developed breast cancer several years ago, it all seemed too cruel. Before she even received her cancer diagnosis she worried people would see her as a failure, as “mortal, flawed, vulnerable, weak.” To Deacon, cancer was more than just a disease that could kill her, it was a slap in the face, a total contradiction of everything she believed in. While others might wonder what had caused their cancer, Deacon wondered why her healthy lifestyle hadn’t prevented it.

A woman’s story about her battle with breast cancer could have been frighteningly bleak, but Deacon’s book is anything but. Beautifully written, her description of events and places takes you back so effectively you can almost taste and smell some scenes.

As she paints her battle through the eyes of the optimistic yet judgmental environmentalist Deacon does not spare herself. She admits to feeling very proud about her environmentalism, putting herself above others. She also admits to falling victim to the search for perfectionism from which so many women suffer.

As the gravity of her diagnosis sets in, her battle soon changes from being that of saving the world, to just saving herself. Fortunately, she is happily married to a caring husband, is the mother of three healthy children and has a supportive group of friends who deliver food to her doorstep daily as she throws herself into getting better. And throw herself into it she does.

You can’t help but wonder why when all that healthy living didn’t repel cancer, she continues to employ it now with an even more maniacal vigour. More painful than hearing about her surgery and radiation therapy is her daunting daily regimen of vitamins and really bad sounding blender creations she enlists in her cancer battle. She admits denying herself traditional comfort fare, but eating food that tastes like the inside of a couch isn’t a great way to buoy the spirits.

In fact, in one scene which I’m sure Deacon didn’t intend to be heartbreaking, but I found it so, she collapses into a friend’s arms overwhelmed after a dance class. After her friend comforts her, she says, “I’ll buy you a green tea.”

Gill, if this ever happens to you again, I am packing you into my car, putting Pat Benatar on full blast, taking you for a burger, fries and a milkshake. Then we’re having gelato. Lots.

I’m sure that’s not the reaction Deacon was hoping to elicit but in a world jaded with everything from “organic” food (how much really is organic?) to what causes and cures cancer, Deacon may appear to some readers to be naive.

Then again, maybe she’s such a true believer that cancer has not shaken her beliefs, just made them a bit more realistic. Deacon muses, “Cancer doesn’t care about my good attitude, recycled toilet paper, refillable coffee mugs and carpooling schedule.”

And all the green tea in the world isn’t going to change that.

By Georgie Binks/Toronto Star/April, 2014