Art show supports brain cancer patients


A poem and photo by’s Adrian Brijbassi will be among the artwork displayed at the “Brain Cancer Got Me Thinking” exhibition in Vancouver. The piece was inspired by Julia Pelish,’s co-founder who is in the midst of conquering brain cancer. (Image by Adrian Brijbassi)

Story by Adrian Brijbassi Columnist 

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Glioblastoma. It’s a scary and ugly word that you do not want staring you in the face. It has the power to wreck your life, as it has mine.

Glioblastoma is the name of the worst kind of brain cancer the world knows. Like a horror movie villain, it returns time and again, growing meaner, faster and more determined with each appearance. Every day, 27 Canadians are diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. On April 7 of this year, 26 of them were strangers to me. The one who wasn’t, the one whose text message “please come home … I have the bad brain cancer” is seared into my memory like the deepest of scars, the one whose eyes I’ve sought for strength, resolve, security and acceptance for two decades, is my wife.

Julia Pelish is’s outstanding photographer as well as a co-founder of our online magazine.

We lost plenty in the moment she learned her diagnosis from a doctor’s phone call. Every dream, every ambition, every carefully cultivated plan, all at risk with a singular grim prognosis that brought with it a terror that may never shrink. She and I think about “it” constantly, speaking about the illness even when we promise we won’t. It awakens us from a dream, breaks up a pleasant thought by sending a shiver of reality through the bones. We attempt to reduce its power by not calling it by name, labelling it her “condition” or her “cold” instead. “Cancer” is too depressing; “glioblastoma” far too frightening to speak.


This photograph by Julia Pelish of the Caribbean Sea shows endless possibilities on the horizon. It is among the pieces in the art show “Brain Cancer Got Me Thinking” at the Visual Space Gallery. (Julia Pelish/

We seek knowledge to protect and guide us. Cancer-fighting foods, meditation and yoga-based exercise regimens are among the weapons with which we wage battle.

Art, too, has helped. Julia’s ability to express herself through photography and mixed media is a distraction at the least and a kind of therapy at its best. Thanks to the British Columbia Cancer Agency (BCCA), brain cancer patients such as Julia have the opportunity this month to showcase their artistic abilities while also raising awareness about the disease. From October 7-13, the work of 22 artists will be displayed at the Visual Space Gallery in Vancouver’s Dunbar neighbourhood. It is the first art show undertaken by BCCA.

Visit BC Cancer Agency’s First Art Show

“We don’t hear enough about brain cancer. The only time anyone usually ever hears the word ‘glioblastoma’ is after they learn they have the disease,” says Rosemary Cashman, the nurse practitioner at BCCA who helped organize the show. “The problem is that brain tumours make up only two per cent of the cancer population and they don’t get the attention — or the money needed to fight them — we would like. So we’re trying to raise awareness about them.”

The week-long exhibition called “Brain Cancer Got Me Thinking” was conceived and implemented by BCCA’s Patient Family Advisory Council, which is is composed of patients with brain tumours and their family members. Cashman is also one of the council’s chairpersons. The Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada also helped with some funding.

“Rather than an Information Day, or some such event, we wanted to highlight the creativity and resilience of those affected by this diagnosis,” she says. “We learn so much from the patients. They are so much more than this disease, so much more than just patients, and you can see that in the artwork.”

While the profits from the sales will not go directly to charity (40 per cent goes to the gallery and 60 per cent to the artists), it is an opportunity to tell the story of how people use creative expression to help them cope with such a devastating disease. In so doing, it may spark charitable donations or other awareness-building initiatives.

Visitors to the show, which coincides with Brain Tumour Awareness Month, will see 30 pieces from anyone touched by the disease, including survivors and their family members. Among the work displayed will be three photographs from Julia and one prose poem/photograph from me; we will donate any profit from the sale of our work to cancer-fighting charities.


A photograph of tree trunks standing strong against the chill of winter is a metaphor for the strength and courage cancer survivors must show when faced with the disease. It’s among the images taken by’s Julia Pelish for the “Brain Cancer Got Me Thinking” exhibition. (Julia Pelish/

Glioblastoma is such a deadly disease because the cancer cells can spread like tentacles throughout the brain and move quickly to overtake healthy brain cells. One of the greatest challenges for those of us who have do combat the disease is to learn again to skip happily through life’s moments while knowing we are tiptoeing on the ultimate precipice. For Julia’s birthday, I drove her from Vancouver to Tofino on the Pacific coast of Canada. We boarded a fishing boat that promised us a ride that would reap hundreds of delectable BC spot prawns straight from the sea. The boat left the dock on the wet morning to carry us through Clayoquot Sound, a waterway guarded by specks of verdant islands thick with old-growth trees. Our guide would halt the engine every few hundred metres in order to pull up one prawn trap after another after another. The first was empty, the second one too. The third had a lonely creature sticking to the twine. In all, the bounty of the two-hour sail netted six quivering prawns and a bucket of jokes about our charter’s poor luck. Through it, Julia clung to her camera and photographed with the intent she always has, capturing through her lens eagles descending the sky, a lustrous fog blanketing the hills, our beleaguered boat captain pondering his next move. Despite the frustration with the prawns, she saw opportunity to salvage the trip. Amid the gloom of the west coast rain, she laughed, knowing warmth awaited on shore, along with an abundance of minutes to explore on that precious day.


More About the ’Brain Cancer Got Me Thinking’ Exhibit

Dates: October 7-13, 2015
Location: Visual Space Gallery, 3352 Dunbar Street, Vancouver, BC (see map below)
Twitter Hashtag: #BrainCancerGMT
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, noon-6 pm (closed Sunday, Monday)
Admission: Free
Art Work: See the video above for images of the pieces that will be displayed as well as other submissions.
More Info: Visit the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada website for additional details on the art show, how the pieces were selected, and resources that can help individuals and families who are fighting the disease.


Adrian is the editor of and He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.

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