Caitlin Purvis didn’t want to regret never having recorded any of her music.
Diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer – a common type of thyroid cancer found in the patient’s neck area – Purvis, a Vancouver resident who grew up on the Semiahmoo Peninsula, got serious about recording her original songs.
The result is the EP Wasting Days, for which she recently shot the video for the title tune, thanks to a $10,000 grant from Telus’ Storyhive project, with director Lucie Guest and Manpreet Babra.
The great news is that, not only has she added impetus to a musical career by releasing the EP and video, one of her biggest fears – that a surgery last year to remove a cancerous tumour would permanently damage her voice – has proven to be unfounded.
With the cancer eliminated – although, as she acknowledges, “there’s always a chance it could come back” – Purvis, who has had more than her share of challenges in recent years, has renewed her lifelong focus on trying to find the joy and happiness in life.
Her upbeat, genre-blending music is definitely a part of that, she said.
“I’ve had to categorize it as folk-pop, but each song is really a different kind of music, ranging from sultry jazz sounds to boot-stomping numbers,” she said.
Purvis, 33, attended Crescent Park Elementary, White Rock Elementary and Elgin Park Secondary before graduating in 2002, and frequently returns to the White Rock area – her mom lives here and she still has friends in the area.
Never one to be shy about challenging herself to explore new paths, she’s currently balancing musical endeavours with hard work by day in a BCIT course in joinery and cabinet-making.
“With what I’ve gone through, I don’t want people to feel bad for me,” she said.
“I feel supremely grateful – I have more love in my life than I’ve ever had. Music has an immense capacity to heal. I sing every single day, no matter where I am.
“Let’s joke about life and have some fun.”
That’s certainly the approach that she and kindred spirits Guest and Babra took in coming up with the black-humour concept for the video for Wasting Days, shot near Squamish in June.
The inspiration for the song came to her during another bleak period in her life – a year and a half before she was diagnosed with cancer she was injured in a car accident that left her with chronic pain and mobility issues.
It seems strange to Purvis now that, in the midst of that pain, she should come up with such a light and ironic ditty with its foot-stomping beat – “I’m singing about looking for a man who’ll come and help me,” she said.
The video, which derives some of its style and attitude – and costume plot – from the famed road movie Thelma and Louise, takes the irony even further, she added.
“It’s me looking for guys who’ll help me – and about me accidentally killing them,” she laughed.
Funded following a successful competition pitch to the public through the Storyhive platform, which supports independent film-making projects, it was shot with three actors and a professional crew of 17 who were willing to make sacrifices and donate time to help bring it in on-budget, she said.
“We spent every bit of the $10,000, but it was worth it,” she said.
There’s another irony in the title Wasting Days, Purvis said.
“Somebody said to me ‘that’s funny – you’ve never wasted a day in your life’.”
Following studies at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont. she has opted for an adventurous life that has included living in England, Ecuador, Argentina, Mexico, Kuwait and throughout the Middle East, and also living and working on a sailboat.
“I wouldn’t say I was a fearful person,” she said. “I’ve lived in the middle of the desert with Bedouins.”
But she recalled that she had never been that confident when it came to her music, even though she has been singing from a very early age.
Although she studied guitar with James Devon, did open mic gigs at the Crescent Beach Wired Monk and worked with other well-known figures in the local music scene – including Ben Brown, Diego Zaragoza, T.J. Hermiston and Max Zipursky of the Star Captains – and even did a solo set in Ecuador as an opening act for legendary group The Doors – “none of it led me to pursue music as a career.”
“It was cancer that did that,” she said. “I was facing the fear of releasing my music, facing my fear of putting it out to the public. Doing that enabled me to talk about my cancer, and I felt like the fear started to dissipate, that everything was going to be OK.”
“Fear holds us back from so much in life,” she said.
“We need to face our fears and be able to ask for help.
“I would not be operating without the support of people in White Rock who have gone above and beyond to help me. We have very big support networks that we can call on – not just in this community but everywhere.”