Diane Bruni: Life and Death on My Own Terms | Mindful Strength Podcast

About Diane Bruni

Diane has been at the forefront of the yoga scene in Canada, she was the first Ashtanga teacher in Canada, founder of the Downward Dog Yoga Studio, and creator of 65 episodes of Breathing Space Yoga

After decades of ‘traditional’ yoga, Diane became disillusioned, her own injuries and the injuries she was witnessing in her community were disheartening. In 2012 after a stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis Diane sold her shares at Downward Dog, freeing herself from teaching traditional yoga classes gave her time to heal, study, experiment, and re-evaluate the true meaning of yoga for her personally.

Woman in triangle pose on a yoga mat

Show Notes

To contact Diane email: diane@dianebruni.com

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To learn more about Diane click here.

To learn more about Chris Bourke click here.

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Diane Bruni: life and death on my own terms

“I guess when I realized that death was imminent and when that really sunk in for me. I realized: “Oh yeah, OK this is it. I’m actually confronting death right now”. Going through the stages and phases which I’m still going through of course.

The beginning ones are different than the later ones. I guess gradually there’s like this acceptance that begins to sink in and become real. That feels empowering in some way. Not empowering but it feels like I’ve overcome a lot of obstacles in my thinking.

I’d say becoming more OK with talking about dying and death. Whereas there’s a tendency to want to actually not go there. You think that you can just keep fighting. When I started to realize that I didn’t, shouldn’t, and couldn’t fight anymore then I began to actually feel more peaceful.”

About This Episode

This week’s episode is very special. Diane Bruni (Kathryn’s mom) is back on the podcast to share an update on her life and cancer journey since the last podcast interview earlier this year. She opens up to Christopher Bourke about what keeps her moving through adversity, and the peace she finds in reflecting on her own mortality. Together they discuss what matters most in life, share messages of love for others, and explore confronting the reality of metastatic cancer with radical acceptance.

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Podcast Transcription

 Kathryn: [00:00:08]

Hey Everyone. Welcome back.
Today on the podcast we have a very special guest for the third time. We have an interview with my mom Diane Bruni. If you were hoping to get in touch with my mom, you are welcome to e-mail her at diane@dianebruni.com. That’s D I A N E, B R U N I.

[00:00:57]

If you don’t know who my mom is or if you’re perhaps new to the podcast, you should go back. The last time she was on the podcast was Episode 145 and 146. It was a two-part podcast. Just over a year ago she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. That was the beginning of that conversation.

Today is going to be a follow-up to that conversation; what’s going on in her life and all of our lives right now; how she’s feeling and the next steps. This interview is going to be pretty emotional, especially if you know my mom. You might have to get the tissues ready.

[00:01:42]

The first time my mom was on this podcast was Episode 100. It was a celebration episode. We talked about how she got started with yoga, the yoga community in Toronto and here in Canada, and how that grew. If you want to hear that, you should definitely go back. It’s such an incredible podcast episode. It’s really one of my favorites.

Today is also different because I am not the one interviewing my mom. Some of you may know Christopher Bourke. Christopher was on the podcast for Episode 142 talking about movement and mental health, which is his field. If you want to learn more about Christopher, you should go back listen to that podcast.

[00:02:26]

These podcasts are going to keep you busy basically for the next week or so! I hope you enjoy them all. Christopher is also our support person here at Mindful Strength. He helps us with everything from administrative tasks to creative work. We’re so happy to have him as part of our team. If you send us an e-mail in the upcoming future and you hear back from someone, you’ll probably be hearing back from Chris.

Chris has been working in the field of movement and as a mental health professional for about a decade and he is also working with people online. If you want to learn more about Christopher’s work, you can find him at movementandmentalhealth.com. I highly recommend you go take a look at what he’s doing. I’ve been in his classes, his virtual classes. They’re fabulous. They’re highly complementary to everything that we’re doing here at Mindful Strength.

[00:03:22]

I can’t say enough good things about him. Christopher has a class coming up in the Mindful Strength Membership. If you’re part of our membership, you’re going to get access to one of his restorative movement classes in the upcoming months. And for those of you who want to do a class with my mom, when I was at the cottage with her this past summer we recorded a couple of classes together as well. Those are also in the membership.

If you want to learn more about the Mindful Strength Membership you can head over to mindfulstrength.ca. Kyle and I teach classes out of our house. We film them; we have this wonderful online community. People come live and they say hi. We do a little bit of Q and A here and there. You also get access to a huge selection of our on-demand classes.

[00:04:10]

The last thing I want to tell you about before we get into this episode is the 300-hour training that I’m doing with my friend and colleague Carly Stong and a number of other guest faculty members. It’s starting in April of 2021. Early bird pricing for that ends December 31st. We have accessible payment plans. We’re planning very far in advance to get everybody organized and on the right plan.

This 300-hour training is Yoga Alliance Certified. It’s going to be 100 percent online with a combination of recorded content, live interaction with us, the group, and of course our wonderful group of guest faculty members. If you want to learn more about the 300-hour training, go over to the website mindfulstrength.ca. You’ll see it there on the home page where you can click teachers education.
All right everyone. Without further ado here is Christopher Bourke interviewing my mom Diane Bruni.

Diane Bruni: [00:05:17]

What a production.

Christopher: It is a production.

Diane Bruni: What a fucking production. Thank you for doing this.

Christopher: Yeah. This is such an honor for me to do this Diane. I am really glad that we can chat. I only wish I could see you in person. I think I only met you one time at GoodBodyFeel. You were there.

Diane Bruni: [00:05:47]

We were sitting mat by mat or pretty close.

Christopher: Yeah.

Diane Bruni: Yeah. Up in the front row.

Christopher: Yup. It’s nice that we get to connect here. I’m just so happy to do this for Kathryn and Kyle as well. I guess we’ll do the official start and then we’ll just get going. I have a few questions. You’re an incredible speaker so I imagine things will just start to flow and evolve so we can just go with that.

Diane Bruni: [00:06:18]

OK great.

Christopher: All right let’s get started. Hi, Diane. Welcome.

Diane Bruni: Hi, Chris.

Christopher: [00:06:27]

It’s such an honor to have this conversation with you. It’s also such an honor to host this conversation for the podcast, and Kathryn and Kyle. You’ve been on here before and you have shared your remarkable story with our listeners. I know many were so inspired by that, and you inspire by what you share and what you say. It’s such a great thing to have you back. I’m just curious and I know many people are: what’s happened or what’s evolved since the last time that you were here as a guest on the podcast?

Diane Bruni: I can’t even remember exactly when the last time was.

Christopher: I think it was February.

Diane Bruni: February. What is it now? November?

Christopher: Yeah.

Diane Bruni: [00:07:16]

Yeah. I actually had a really really nice spring. I had an amazing springtime. I was up at my cottage and my new neighbors at my cottage are both movement geeks like me. Kevin O’Connor has been on your podcast. I think it’s going to be doing something with Kathryn soon. He’s my next-door neighbor at my cottage.

We started going on three-hour hikes every day and it was awesome because when I took him places that I would never go alone in the forest. That was really really fun. We were up there for like a couple of months together. When the black flies came out in the spring and we didn’t want to go hiking so much, we started practicing somatic yoga movement indoors on a screened-in porch.

[00:08:16]

I had an amazing spring, actually. I had a really nice summer really beautiful summer. I have metastatic breast cancer and I go for scans every three months. I had to go for a scan at the end of August or beginning of September, and the scan showed some progression of the cancer. That wasn’t good news at all.

Kathryn and Kyle got married which was the best news ever. We had a nine-person wedding in my mom’s backyard, which really really beautiful. Then my mom sold her house and we cleaned out the whole family home on November 30. I mean September 30th. That was a huge undertaking, but we did it and it was awesome. She’s living with my older brother now.

[00:09:12]

Anyway, back to my medical thing. My cancer had progressed and it was growing. When you have metastatic breast cancer it means that the original breast cancer that I was first diagnosed within 2012 has come back. When the original breast cancer returns, it’s still called breast cancer even though it can be anywhere in your body.

Mine came back to my liver and my bones which are very common for when it does come back: liver, bones, and brain are the most common sites of reoccurrence or metastases. I have metastases in the liver and throughout my skeleton. Basically, it’s little bits, little spots in a lot of places. But one spot t-10 or thoracic vertebrae ten had quite a bit of progression, which was causing quite a bit of pain. I had to go for radiation right before Kathryn’s wedding which was a bit of a drag because I was really exhausted and felt like shit for her wedding. But anyway I was there and I hung in there.

Then the fall is a lot harder than the spring. I had the radiation. Then more recently, the next scan or the next three months scan showed more progression. That means that the drugs that I was taking last year and into the spring, those drugs are called the first line of treatment, stopped working which is what happens with cancer.

[00:11:07]

These chemo type drugs work for a while and then they stop working and then they move you on to the next drug. With breast cancer, there are a lot of drugs and a lot of different drugs. With other cancers, sometimes there are not a lot of treatments. But with breast cancer there are lots and they can keep women with metastatic breast cancer alive for quite a few years.

I think I’ve already had metastatic breast cancer for about four years because about four years ago I started having hip pain and I never had a scan. I thought that it was maybe a little arthritis or maybe I needed to do some more glutes strengthening. Maybe I’d slacked off on my glutes strengthening.
It was really not a lot of pain. It was really just a little. I just would notice it.

It wasn’t really bothering me that much. I was able to pretty much ignore it. In looking back in retrospect now, I know it was cancer because in the fall I had a fractured pubic bone which made me unable to walk without crutches. The scans at that time showed severe metastases right in the hip joint right exactly where I had been having that pain.

[00:12:45]

I knew at that point that “oh yeah that little pain was the beginning of cancer”. This is an interesting thing to mention at this point because here I am a yoga teacher and supposed to be so aware blah blah blah. All this information about pain science and it’s hard to know what pain means and pain doesn’t always mean it’s bad and blah blah blah.

The pain I was having was, I’m almost certain, it was the beginning of the cancer coming back. It doesn’t really matter because I’m glad I didn’t know. I had a few years of not knowing and I had an amazing time. Those few years. I just carried on. Life was beautiful. It was great and I didn’t know that the beginning had begun actually…

Christopher: Yeah, it really speaks to…oh, go ahead.

Diane Bruni: Yeah, ignorance is bliss.

Christopher: It really speaks to that.

Diane Bruni: [00:13:48]

Yeah, had I known or had I gone for that scan, and had I known, the stress levels would have skyrocketed. Then there you go. Even though there’s nothing really you can do about it. I don’t think that starting treatment three or four years ago when that little tiny pain started and got worse and worse, I don’t think I’d be any further ahead right now.

In fact, I think I’d be further behind right now because the drugs are toxic. They would have started to hit me with the drugs right at the beginning. I don’t know. That’s not what happened, you know.

Christopher: [00:14:27]

I’m really struck by something, Diane. In your last podcast interview and even now, you’ve encountered such weighty and heavy prognoses or diagnoses or new information. Yet you keep prevailing and pushing forward.

I was really inspired by the last interview. I have done my research because I wanted to come in and know your story. You had said, “keep moving no matter what”. I just am struck by how you just keep moving forward in the face of these big uncertainties. I’m so curious what keeps you moving forward? What’s been driving you forward?

Diane Bruni: [00:15:19]

Well, the alternative is to be depressed. That’s the alternative to moving forward and staying in the flow. The alternative is to just get stuck and be afraid and get depressed and anxious et cetera. I’ve been there. I’ve had many many days spent feeling more depressed than I’ve ever felt in my life.

It’s not really my nature to be that way. I’ve never really been that type of person. I always under stress, I sort of get activated. I don’t tend to lie around and feel sorry for myself. If anything, I get more anxious and nervous and do more. Typically I don’t do less. All my life, I mean.

[00:16:16]

Lately, that’s switched. I found myself lying around feeling really sorry for myself and crying a lot and grieving a lot. I have a hard time these days blocking these emotions. I just let it happen. It’s really scary for me to let that happen.

But then I feel better. I can have like a few days like that. I mean it can be off and on. Well, it’s been off and on for a few months now that I’ve felt like that a lot, but then I don’t know what pulls me out of it. On those days, I’m saying things like: “maybe I need anti-depressants. Maybe I need to talk to like my doctors. I need anti-depressants. I can’t live like this. This fucking sucks”.

I’m in these Facebook groups with other women who have breast cancer. They talk about the anti-depressants they’re on and the sleeping pills they take, and that’s how a lot of women get by. Somehow I pull into my tool chest.

[00:17:41]

All those years, of all the ways I learned how to relax. I can bring myself back to a more relaxed state. Then it seems like the anxiety dissipates and I can deal. I can think about it. I still get curious about my medical condition. I end up researching things and learning all about cancer. That’s my obsession right now.

I’m learning all about cancer and the body. I’m still curious and whatever sort of comes up, I began to study a little bit. I’m still interested in learning which is kind of cool and I think that helps me to not be totally depressed. I try to do my little things. I have a little movement practice that I still try to do. It’s becoming less and less and less, but it’s still amazing to me how even the smallest amount of movement is still so beneficial.

[00:18:58]

Some days, for example, all I do is ankle rolls and that’s it. Wrist rolls and ankle rolls. That’s it. I might lift my legs into the air and shake them out or something but that can be the extent of my movement practice. Then I feel actually a little better and it’s like “oh”.

I found out recently that the progression at t-10 has progressed even further and it’s getting closer to my spinal cord. The cancer is actually growing around my spinal cord right now. The neurosurgeon, who I had a meeting with last week, I asked her to describe what part of the tumor is where. She said Imagine it like an ice cube and it’s kind of melting around her spinal cord. It’s kind of growing around it. This has become now the latest medical thing I’m dealing with.

I have to go for surgery because the doctors are worried that the tumor will cause spinal compression which is paralysis. They don’t like to say paralysis but that’s paralysis. I have to go for spinal surgery on November 30th. The spinal surgery, believe it or not, it’s just day surgery.

Christopher: Wow.

Diane Bruni: [00:20:33]

Yeah. I was shocked. I was ready because I have done my research. I was looking at studies of rods and pins and cement and what they do to prop up vertebrae when they’re full of cancer. In my situation with the cancer, apparently, 50 percent of T-10 has been eaten away. The real issue is the tumor growing around it.

They’re actually not even going to prop up the vertebrae or install anything. All the surgeon is doing in my case is he’s going to go in and he’s just going to clean out some of the tumor. Then the plan is to have radiation; this very specialized form of radiation that is extremely high dose in an extremely small spot. That will require that they wrap me up in a bean bag; they’ll saran wrap me tight in this bean bag blanket so that I can’t move anything. Then they slide me into the machine and they zap me. They zap the area around t-10 avoiding the spinal cord.

It’s all very risky business but the alternative is to probably end up paralyzed. Of course, I’ve agreed to go forward with these next steps. I just wanted to let people know because, I guess, I left off in February feeling pretty positive. The drugs were working and I had an amazing spring and a really great summer, but now things have turned. I wanted people to know what’s happening, so they’re not shocked one day.

Christopher: [00:22:38]

Yeah. I think so many people are gaining so much from what you share. It’s incredibly courageous, Diane. I’m just thinking back to what you were saying about those days that you have where it just feels so hard to move and you’re overcome with that depression. I can guarantee the listeners who are relating to your experience have had those days too. Those days are totally normal and part of this process.

I’m imagining at this point there have been many supports in your circle and your life on those days. This has all been happening under a global pandemic.

Diane Bruni: [00:23:22]

It’s awful. Worst timing, worst timing.

Christopher: Yeah. What has it looked like for you?

Diane Bruni: It’s the worst timing. It just makes it so much harder. The summer wasn’t so bad because I got to see people outside. Now I feel like I’m entering into a really dark period where I personally am going through some incredibly hard times. The people I want to have close to me, I can’t have close to me. It’s really sad. Me and my mom, it’s awful.

[00:24:05]

It doesn’t feel safe to be in the same room as my mom right now. She’s living with my brother and my sister-in-law and my niece. My brother’s still working as a doctor. He’s out in the world. He has lots of house call patients. I just feel like that’s a big bubble.

It sucks and people want to come to visit me but that’s now, for the next few months, probably not going to happen. My son walks up the stairs; he comes over to visit, while he lives downstairs he comes up to see me and is like masks on. Now we have all of these: I don’t want to get covid on top of this.

Christopher: Yeah.

Diane Bruni: [00:24:53]

We’re being super, super careful in our household. Thank God Kathryn and Kyle are isolated and before they come and visit me. The only people they see are Kyle’s brother and Kyle’s parents. Before they come and visit me they don’t even see them. Thank God they can come and hang out here with me because that really helps a lot to have people around.

Otherwise, it’s really my poor husband who becomes my sounding board, my servant, my everything. Yeah, really shitty timing.

Christopher: Yeah.

Diane Bruni: I’m in and out of hospitals now all the time, but what can you do? I think they were very careful at the hospitals, especially at Princess Margaret.

Christopher: [00:25:54]

Yeah. You mentioned the teachings that you have drawn on. You mentioned the years of your training and your experience that you’ve called on to deal with and confront this. I just love that you’re swearing that you’re naming this because it really speaks to just how head-on you are facing this. You are like: “they don’t want to say paralysis, but I’m going to say paralysis. I’m going to name this for what it is”.

It sounds like there’s a great deal of this radical acceptance within what you’re you’re working through right now and that’s incredibly remarkable. I know for myself personally, not making any comparisons, I have all this wisdom but then when push comes to shove and I’m in those situations it’s so hard to remember those teachings. It’s like “fuck that stuff”, right?. It’s just it’s so hard.

I’m wondering what have been some of the teachings, the strategies? You kind of highlighted some of them by now. What have some of them been?

Diane Bruni: [00:27:02]

It’s so interesting. It just comes back to the most simple teaching of all. The first thing I remember learning when I started yoga. The first thing I would teach people who were starting yoga: just become aware of your breath. That’s it. If you can just simply become aware of your breath, that is the most effective tool for reducing anxiety and being present. That’s what I do a lot of these days.

A lot of the time I’m too uncomfortable to move. Everything hurts. I’ll spend hours often at night, often in the middle of the night, or even during the day, I just lie there very very still. I just notice my breath. I can slip into that mode for long stretches of time. That helps me to deal with what I’m dealing with.

If I can’t get into that state of mind, I become extremely restless; kind of flailing a bit; moaning and groaning a lot; and complaining. I just become tired of being in that state, so try to get totally propped up. Restorative yoga, propping the body and learning how to prop the body. Support here. Support here. Support here. Get yourself as comfortable as possible and then just notice your breath.

That is right now for me my number one strategy for dealing with my situation. Then when I feel a little energetic some ankle rolls, wrist rolls, and some of the developmental movements that I’ve really become interested in the past few years. When I get down on the floor, that’s what I want to do is baby-like movements; rolling over from side to side.

[00:29:27]

I was thinking this the other day when you become incapacitated like I am beginning to feel incapacitated, where rolling over in bed is like a huge chore sometimes. It’s those baby movements, a baby learning how to roll over in bed, those are the most functional movements. It’s like “how do I place my arm? Where do I place my elbow to get the most efficiency with the least amount of effort and strain?” It’s ridiculous.

I’ve been studying this movement practice for the past few years and it starts with the most basic baby-like movements; lifting your head, rolling over to your side. I think about those movements and how I’m using my body all the time. I think that really helps me a lot. When I go and see my doctors and they look at my scans and they look at me and I’m still walking. I’m walking without support right now. The doctors just look at me and say “wow you’re doing really really well. You’re in great shape”. It’s like you have no idea. I feel like I’m disintegrating right now but I’ve learned how to adapt, I guess.

[00:31:01]

The other thing that I practice a lot is walking really slowly because I’m losing my ability to walk. I can feel it. I don’t know if it’s because of what’s happening in my spine. I don’t know if after this surgery and radiation it’ll improve. I don’t know. I’m losing my ability to walk normally. That’s really freaking me out. A little bit of time when I feel energetic I do a little walking practice.

I’ve also been studying walking practices with the Axis Syllabus, Kevin, and all those wonderful people. My friend Ruth, all those years we practiced walking in these movement classes; really detailed walking gait mechanics. I find that extremely helpful now to revisit. When I feel like I put my body in a normal alignment for walking, things start to tremble. My nervous system is freaking out. Whereas my gait is becoming this really weird thing where my left leg swings way out to the side and my whole torso wobbles from side to side. It hurts.

My left hip is killing me every step I take. If I do this slow-motion walking, it actually takes the pain away, and eventually, my nervous system will settle and I’ll feel an improvement for a while after. That’s really great, that all of that time spent.

Christopher: [00:33:07]

You have a class on the virtual studio with Kathryn. I did it and it’s an incredible class. I’ve started to integrate some of that into the classes that I teach. A student commented because we do it over Zoom. A student commented “rolling forever!”. They loved it. There is something maybe intuitive and primal or whatever the word you’re looking for, but it’s just it’s really it’s a beautiful practice.
I just wanted to echo that it has been lovely to start integrating into my life and other people too. It’s incredible.

Diane Bruni: [00:33:50]

Yeah, when I started learning from and hanging out with the Axis Syllabus folks, a big part of their practice is rolling stuff. The most basic thing is developmental, the most simple thing. I always found it so incredibly soothing once I got the hang of it. I remember at the beginning thinking “well this is awkward because I’m not using really my muscles”. I’m used to plank, chaturanga, work. I was like “what’s the point of pushing your body up from the floor unless you’re getting some exercise”.

Whereas in these practices it is about maximum ease and efficiency minimal effort. That’s where babies figure out because they know they haven’t developed the muscular strength yet, so they figure out a way to do that. That’s just the easiest way possible. Learning the easiest way possible to get up and down from the ground seems like a waste of time for some people at a certain stage in their development. For me is like “oh this is really coming in handy right now”.

Christopher: [00:35:29]

In so many ways, it’s like it’s rebuilt a bit of confidence in doing movement and it’s a peeling back of layers in many ways. Simplifying it and yet it’s sometimes not that simple.

Diane Bruni: It’s not that simple to undo. It’s the undoing the hard part. If we can just let go and undo, then it all seems to make sense.

Christopher: Yeah. I hear free for your practice that this is just helped you feel that steadiness or that embodied strength. Throughout this whole experience so far and all the things that you have faced, all this adversity and challenge: when have you felt the strongest? What do you feel is your strongest or proudest moment in what you’ve had to come through in the last few years?

Diane Bruni: Oh. Oh.

Christopher: That’s a big question, maybe.

Diane Bruni: OK. Ask me again.

Christopher: [00:36:45]

Yeah. I guess I’ll reframe it in terms of where I’m coming from. I think some people describe when we’re facing adversity we come through it with a great deal of learning or insight about ourselves. I would imagine, maybe I’m just projecting here because I look at you and I think you’re incredibly strong. I wonder when have you seen or felt yourself to be so strong in the last few years?

Diane Bruni: I guess when I realized that death was imminent and when that really sunk in for me. I realized: “Oh yeah, OK this is it. I’m actually confronting death right now”. Going through the stages and phases which I’m still going through of course. The beginning ones are different than the later ones.
I guess gradually there’s like this acceptance that begins to sink in and become real.

That feels empowering in some way. Not empowering but it feels like I’ve overcome a lot of obstacles in my thinking. I’d say becoming more OK with talking about dying and death. Whereas there’s a tendency to want to actually not go there. You think that you can just keep fighting.

Christopher: Mm-hmm.

Diane Bruni: [00:38:31]

When I started to realize that I didn’t, shouldn’t, and couldn’t fight anymore then I began to actually feel more peaceful.

I remember one night when I really let myself go there. I just visualized my whole death and visualized what I would want it to be like having no idea what it’s going to be like or what it will be like. I let myself just go there. I totally got into this lucid dream.

[00:39:09]

I remember feeling so peaceful afterward. I thought “OK, that’s a good thing that I don’t want to avoid or push aside”. Whereas I think when you’re healthy like you never go there, you never go there. Why would you? Why would you? Why would you go there?

Maybe people talk about that. People who do ayahuasca talk about experiencing death but not the same. Sorry. It’s just not the same. It can’t be. It’s a one-off.

Christopher: Yeah. It’s a moment. It’s a moment in time and not ongoing.

Diane Bruni: It’s a fucking one-off. It’s one-off. It doesn’t count folks. Sorry.

Christopher: Yeah. Yeah.

Diane Bruni: [00:40:03]

No. But actually, it’s a process. Letting yourself actually go there takes a lot of courage because it’s so scary. Then you realize, and I remember after that night going, “oh I wasn’t actually so scary and I actually feel a lot more peaceful”. Then I was able to start to verbalize so with the people around me. Up until that point I had been unable to verbalize them you know talking about “oh OK I’m going to die. Oh. I wonder if I’ll live long enough to see this or live long enough to see that”.

Expressing that to my kids and my mom. I remember the first time I said that to my mom she just freaked. I said, “Mom, this is reality right now”. It’s really hard.

Christopher: They’re not conversations people venture into easily.

Diane Bruni: No. Well, you wouldn’t unless you had to. Even still I took care of my dad when he was dying and we never talked about dying.

Christopher: [00:41:15]

Everything that you are talking about, these difficult conversations, these difficult moments and being with your own dying and your own death, what would you say to other people who are going through similar experiences such as yours right now? What would you say?

Diane Bruni: [00:41:37]

We’re all in this together. Try to find some peace and comfort. Even in the most simple moments. I think some people who are dying just keep fighting. I don’t know maybe that works for people but for me, it’s really helped me to be more accepting. Sometimes I think I’m losing maybe too much of my fight that I’m being too accepting. I need to fight more. Maybe I’ll strengthen my immune system or something but I’m not feeling it.

I know how far I’m prepared to go with treatments and suffering. I’m looking into MAID which is medical assistance in dying. For people who are going through what I’m going through: know that you have a choice and you have some control over how much you suffer and you can call it off whenever you want.
That for me that has actually given me a huge amount of comfort as well.

That it’s not up to the doctors to decide when I’m going to die. I can make that call and that helps me cope and deal with what I am anticipating lies ahead. What I’m anticipating could be all wrong. I have really no idea. Prepare for the worst…

Christopher: [00:43:37]

…hope for the best.

Diane Bruni: Hope for the best. Sometimes I say to my son when I go out for a walk or something: “if I get hit by a bus and I end up dying, and you never see me again be happy for me OK? Be happy for me”. In so many ways that would be so much easier right now.

Christopher: Yeah. That’s real. That’s real.

Diane Bruni: He just laughs, but I kind of mean it. At this point, death doesn’t scare me and sometimes I think fast and abrupt wouldn’t be so bad.

Christopher: [00:44:21]

The thing that I’m struck by is how you’ve done this on your own terms. The ability to have your own autonomy in this experience seems to have made such a difference for you. I hear you hold the reality of death and then the options for how you want to move forward either towards death.

We’re all moving towards death as they say but in this treatment, you have had opportunities to do it on your own terms. You’ve learned a lot, I’m sure, about how to advocate for yourself in a medical system where some folks don’t necessarily feel that they have that autonomy or that ability. In some cases, they may not.

[00:45:13]

I’m really struck by that. I think that’s something that’s really inspiring about your story, too, is how you have found room for yourself. What have you learned about that? Maybe you’ve met challenges doing it but I think that might be illuminating for people to know: what has it been like to try to do this on your own terms in relationship with our medical system?

Diane Bruni: [00:45:40]

Yeah, Well, I gotta say that in terms of the medical system, I used to have a bit of a bad attitude about the medical system. I always thought I was above the medical system. I was healthy. I was taking preventative measures. I was like doing it. I’m never going to need them. It’s fine if other people need them that’s fine, but I’m never going to need them. Until I needed them.

Now I have like this amazing doctor at Princess Margaret Hospital which is the main cancer hospital in Toronto. I have so much respect for this man. It’s actually mind-boggling for me that I actually could have this much respect and confidence in him. He’s awesome. I can send him an e-mail and he will respond within three minutes of my email. It can be a one-word response but it’s all I need to hear. Or it will be I’ll call you in 30.

[00:46:56]

That has really changed me. That’s really changed me a lot. When I talk to him about you know I want to know more about MAID: medical assistance in dying. He said, “I think that’s a really good idea and I’m going to connect you with the palliative care team. They can help you with that. They’ll answer all your questions. Blah blah blah blah”.

On the one hand, I feel like I’m advocating for myself and on the other hand, I feel that we are so fortunate in Canada to have these laws already in place. They are there to actually support me and my decision to end my life. I don’t even actually feel like I have to advocate for myself. It’s a choice and I’m really grateful that I have a choice and it’s not a big deal in Canada.

I feel sorry for people in other parts of the world where it’s not a choice. It’s a really sad thing to me. I can’t even imagine why it’s against the law to want to die when you’re around the corner from death anyway. How could anyone want to stop you?

Christopher: [00:48:30]

Do they make finding these resources easy?

Diane Bruni: It’s very easy. It’s very easy. You just look at the Canadian Government Website. There are pages and pages of documents. It’s simplified. It’s a process you have to go through in order to go through the correct channels because if you do die at home they do call in the coroner.

[00:48:54]

You want to make sure that you followed the guidelines so the coroner’s not suspicious. You can actually, and I have to look for a better end to this, but from what I’ve read on the Canadian Government Website is you can actually get a prescription. You can have the prescription at home and just basically overdose whenever you want. That’s kind of cool.

Instead of having to make an appointment with a doctor who has to come into your house to kill you. That seems ridiculous to me. Why not? If you go through the legit channels, I’m sure it’s a whole bottle of hydromorphone or something. I don’t know what they give you or liquid something. You basically just take a drug, go to sleep and that’s the end of it.

Christopher: [00:49:51]

Right.

Diane Bruni: Yeah. It’s easy actually, I think. I haven’t actually gone through all the steps yet.

Christopher: [00:49:57]

Yeah. How you said with these medical professionals, whatever options that you’re wanting to consider, it’s not so much on you to advocate for that. Education and supports are being offered to show you those avenues. It sounds to me that there is also some compassion from the care providers that you’re getting in terms of respecting when you come to these decisions and how you come to these decisions, too.

Diane Bruni: [00:50:28]

Every step along the way you have to agree to everything, like new drugs, more radiation, and surgery, or whatever. We always have a choice every step along the way. At some point quality of life and more procedures. At some point, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know. You know everyone always says just one foot in front of the other.

One day at a time. One breath at a time, because it’s really hard to know how this is all going to unfold.

Christopher: [00:51:12]

Yeah, it’s understandably uncertain. I didn’t necessarily expect our conversations to shift towards the conversation or assisted dying and the concept. Not the concept of concept dying. It’s not a concept. Dying is not a concept. Oh jeez, this is how I cope. I get a little intellectual, and I say things like “concept”

Diane Bruni: …It’s a theory…it’s a theory.

Christopher: [00:51:43]

The theory of dying. This isn’t to say anything about prognosis, but I think there’s something remarkable about right now. Here you are, you’re speaking to folks who know you and don’t know you. I think the things that you’re sharing give so much realness to people who may not know you but are going through similar things. I also think it’s giving people who know you a window into where you are and the humanity of that experience. The humanity of what you’re going through.

It’s just incredible that you’re saying that. What I’m reflecting on, and again this isn’t to say anything about the future, I don’t know who the speaker was but they did this last lecture. They were undergoing an illness to which they didn’t know their life expectancy, so they gave a lecture. They gave a talk about the things that they wanted to impart to the world and things that they wanted to say to people.

I can’t help but hear as you’re talking so frankly about the things that you’ve reflected on in looking at your own mortality: what are the things that you’d want to say to those who love you, who are following you, and who have followed you all these years? What would be the message you’d be giving them?

Diane Bruni: [00:53:11]

This is when I start to get emotional. I wish I could see everyone again. I wish I could hug everyone again. I wish I could express how much I love everyone and all those times and experiences we shared in the studio and workshops. You know, my life know.

When it’s all happening, you kind of take it all for granted. Then when you get to where I am right now in my life, I spend a lot of time remembering. What I remember is the love of the people. That’s all that really matters in one’s life. That’s it. All the love and all the people and all the goodness and all that in all your relationships.

[00:54:15]

Yeah, it’s hard to say don’t take it for granted because everyone takes it for granted until a place like where I am possibly near the end. When you look back and you go “Oh my God. Nothing else mattered”.

All that fucking time I wasted worrying about this and stressing about that and blah blah blah. I’m not thinking about that shit now. All that I am thinking about is you know memories I have with so many different people, in so many different situations, and how precious those are.

Christopher: That’s beautiful.

Diane Bruni: [00:55:04]

Yeah, it’s hard really. I wish I could see people. Everyone wants to help, but there’s really nothing anyone can do. I will say that I do like it when people, somehow through the grapevine, have been hearing things.
I do get some e-mails and people sharing memories and some people send me pictures.

I do like to read an e-mail and see some pictures or whatever of your family or whatever. For anyone who feels like reaching out, don’t be shy. I may not respond to everyone. I do find solace in connecting with people even if it’s through an email or text or whenever. A phone call.

Christopher: [00:56:11]

Absolutely. I can’t even imagine the number of people’s lives you have touched, Diane. My own life in such proximity to you through Kathryn. Your wisdom is endlessly present in all of these chats that Kathryn and I have together when I visit her.

When we’re talking business and we’re talking movement, you are there with us and so present. I feel so indebted to you. It’s hilarious, I said this before we actually started recording, but I have maybe had a brief chat with you at GoodBodyFeel. It feels so 2020 that the most substantial conversation we’re having is over virtual.

[00:57:01]

You’ve just about like such an incredible presence in my life and I can only imagine the presence you still hold in so many other people’s lives. I know that in hearing that call for messages of love, I think many people will come forward. You have built such an incredible legacy. So much has happened because of your work and because of the love and the passion that you have brought to the movement world and the world as a whole.

This is this conversation is just felt like an incredible honor. What a special way to truly meet you, meet you Diane, the incredible human that you are. There is the Diane I’ve heard of through their reputation and you’re even more remarkable than what I’ve heard.

I think many people would say that and more. I think they will be reaching out for sure.

Diane Bruni: [00:58:10]

It’s been wonderful to meet you in this way as well, Chris. I’m really glad that Kathryn suggested that you interview me. I knew it was sort of going to come up between her and I. The podcast idea.

I was really reluctant to talk to Kathryn, and I think vice versa. I don’t think we would have been able to actually have this talk because I think it would have been too emotional for both of us.

Christopher: Of course.

Diane Bruni: [00:58:43]

When she suggested maybe it would be easier if you did it, I was just like “Wow. What a great idea. Yeah. It would be so much easier”. She was also relieved, I think.

Christopher: Yeah for sure. I’m just curious. They may edit this question out but not having Kathryn here with you, what would you want to say to Kathryn?

Diane Bruni: [00:59:17]

Carry on girl. My father used to say no matter how hard times were, no matter what the hell was going on, you’d say: “Dad, how are you doing?” He would say “I keep a go. I keep a go”. He’s dying of cancer, he can’t walk and it’s like, “Dad, how are you doing?” “ah, I keep a go. I keep a go”. Just keep going, just keep going and she’ll keep going.

Hey, you know what, life goes on. That is reality. Life goes on and one by one we’re going to drop off the conveyor belt.

Christopher: [01:00:09]

I’ve never heard it put like that but I think I like it. I.

Diane Bruni: Someone I know describes death like that. I always thought it was hilarious and perfect. You just go along, you go along, you go along, and one day you just drop off the conveyor belt. Anyway, we’re all going to drop off one day but life goes on. It’s huge to know that Kathryn is thriving. She will continue to thrive. Same with my son Marshall. They’re thriving. I’m not worried about them one single but. That’s a massive relief.

Christopher: What you said, what was it that your dad would say?

Diane Bruni: “I keep a go. I keep a go”.

Christopher: [01:00:58]

I keep a go. Then you say just keep moving. It sounds to me that you carry the legacy forward. I remember one time I was going through a really tough time. My dad struggled with a lot of mental illness, and I was having a really tough time. I remember hugging my mom and crying. I was having this profound worry that I’m going to suffer as much as he did and I’m going to have such a tough time. She hugged me and she said, “Chris, don’t forget there’s some of me in there, too”.

I feel you have you’ve imprinted such incredible things in Kathryn. She’s definitely going to keep going.

Diane Bruni: [01:01:39]

Oh yes. She’s going to keep going. She will only get more amazing.

Christopher: Yeah.

Diane Bruni: Yeah.

Christopher: [01:01:48]

Well, Diane, it has been such an honor. I think that’s in so many ways I’m speechless and feel incredible gratitude for you. Thank you for sharing everything that you shared. To the listeners: feel free to reach out and send messages of love to Diane through us or directly to Diane, if you have her information. Thank you.

Diane Bruni: Thank you, Chris. Take care.

Christopher: Yeah, you too.

Diane Bruni: Stay safe.

Kathryn: [01:02:30]

That’s our show. Thank you, everyone, so much for listening. If you were listening on Apple Podcasts and you’re loving Mindful Strength Podcast, please consider leaving us a review. All of the reviews really really help. If you want to learn more about my work, my membership, my teachers’ course, or my new free course called Mindful Strength Foundations, you can head over to mindfulstrength.ca.