TORONTO — Amelie Beyries has felt life slipping out of her grasp.
It first happened when she was diagnosed with cancer at age 28. Coming out of treatment, she thought everything would improve. Except it didn't — it got worse.
But 10 years later, the Montreal-raised singer is still here to tell her story. She considers that itself a victory.
"The great thing about being sick is you're very conscious of your fragility," she says while sipping a latte in a Toronto cafe.
"You're happy, you're having coffee and it's nice out. You're feeling OK. Focus on that."
Now at age 37 she's releasing "Landing," her tender debut album under the name Beyries (pronounced Bay-riss).
It's filled with melancholy songs, some which linger on the darkness of life's most helpless hours, while others find a spark of hope in survival. Each track carries the emotional weight of a woman haunted by her pain.
"If you had met me 10 years ago I would've never cried," she says, wiping away a few tears as she recounts her cancer treatments.
"I would've been a person very much in control."
In those days she worked in the demanding, fast-paced public relations industry and had a comfortable loft in Old Montreal. It was steps from where she'd wind up her days by partying with colleagues and clients until last call.
But the celebrations came to a grinding halt.
After visiting her doctor over worries about a lump in her breast, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and urged to start chemotherapy immediately.
Seven months of treatment ended with a partial mastectomy and two months of radiation.
Those days weren't easy, but Beyries remembers a renewed thirst for life.
She put her job aside and bought a chalet away from the city for a bit of seclusion. The house gave her enough room to wheel in a baby grand piano inherited from her grandmother, whom she never met.
While Beyries dabbled in composing music as a teenager, her interest was merely casual. But those ivory keys started beckoning her again.
Sitting down at the piano she composed "Soldier," a defiant story about severing ties with a soured relationship.
Beyries played it for a couple of friends who shared it with their contacts in Quebec's media industry. Hearing the buzz, a local fashion magazine chose to showcase the song alongside a feature story about breast cancer on its tablet app.
It was a meaningful gesture for Beyries, but she didn't intend to launch a music career based on that attention. Life was finally starting to get back on track and she didn't need more turbulence.
A few months later, she started feeling electrical shocks under her arm.
Doctors told her the cancer was back and that she'd need to undergo treatment again.
"The first time you don't know what's waiting for you," she says of the process. "The second time you know and it's very scary."
Getting back on track again after her left breast was removed wasn't so easy.
Without a steady job her finances were a shambles and the dream chalet had to be sold. When a buyer couldn't be found fast enough, she was pushed into bankruptcy.
"Everything was just a complete mess," she remembers.
Dragged into a crippling depression, Beyries eventually turned to her piano again to write "Alone," which traces the end of a "very dark period" when she'd lost faith in everything.
Nobody else was supposed to hear her recordings, Beyries insists, but friends convinced her to set them free.
They landed in the hands of Montreal producer Alex McMahon, who urged Beyries to expand on her feelings in a studio. They worked together on tracks that evoke 1970s Fleetwood Mac, Elton John and Cat Stevens.
"Landing" also represents three generations of women in her family, each who played a role in its creation.
Her grandmother's piano helped chisel the messages she wrote to her mother, most notably on "J'aurai cent ans," the album's only French-language track.
And Beyries' sister illustrated the collage of visual trinkets that adorn the album's cover. Each one is important — her grandmother's piano, a butterfly pendant her mother used to wear and an hourglass to represent life.
"I just know that it can stop at any time," Beyries says.
Talking about the future is hard too. When pressed for what's next, Beyries says she's written songs for a second album but doesn't like to think that far ahead. She's learned that lesson before, even though she's six years in remission.
"I'm trying to focus my mind on what's going on right now," she says.
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David Friend, The Canadian Press