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Powerful launch for author Mehrnaz Massoudi's 'She's Still Here' at Penticton Art Gallery

It was a powerful Thursday evening at the Penticton Art Gallery.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Mehrnaz Massoudi

The occasion was the book launch of "She's Still Here," a compilation of fictional short stories from Penticton-based author, emotional healing coach and breast cancer survivor Mehrnaz Massoudi.

A pre-release promotional blurb says the book "explores the many layers of grief and rage mothers, daughters, and women around the world face throughout their lifetimes, and the healing that can be found in the most sacred of places – within ourselves."

But the event was far from a typical book launch. It was an emotional roller coaster. One of those really big ones.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

At times it was joyful, at times horrifying. It was distressing, it was comic. It was depressing and it was cathartic. Ultimately, it elicited gasps and laughter and it left more than a few in the sold-right-out audience shedding tears on multiple instances.

The night began with an all-too-real "performance" by Penticton singing coach/theater artist Mia Harris, who, standing at the rear of the room, leaving the "stage" hauntingly empty, seamlessly combined a passage from She's Still Here with an excerpt from her own life experiences.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Mia Harris

Her words focused on a woman trying desperately to come to grips with a prior sexual assault. It was devastating stuff, but there was more to come.

Harris then made her way to the front of the room, seemingly in a state of bewilderment, lipstick smeared across her terror-stricken face. A high-pitched melody came from her mouth that at times reached a shriek.

It was absolutely chilling.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Mia Harris (right)

It was then Carl Meadows' turn. Meadows, an outspoken activist for gender equality and 2SLGBTQQIA+ rights and the founder of the Snakebite Film Festival – and now a pretty good drag queen too – came up in the guise of the latter, but with illuminated angel wings.

Meadows, like Harris, combined material from Massoudi's book with experiences from his own life. Indeed, he would reveal publicly for the very first time that he'd been sexually assaulted while he was still just a kid.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Carl Meadows

The mood darkened again as might be expected, but Meadows didn’t dwell long. Within minutes he was motivationally speaking, then lip-syncing, then proudly extending those wings and eliciting cheers from the crowd.

When it was Massoudi's turn, she was welcomed like an old friend. Like a returning hero.

She spoke to PentictonNow earlier in the evening, telling us how she fled Iran as a revolutionary in the 1980s and worked hard in her adopted country to become a scientist in the field of cancer research.

But in 2000 at the age of 41, she was slammed with a personal diagnosis. Massoudi herself had breast cancer.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Mehrnaz Massoudi

"So in 2000 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer," she explained, "I started searching for a place where I could feel at peace because the anxiety of breast cancer (potentially) coming back was so overwhelming. And I had two young children at the time.

"I dove in to find spirituality. To find an answer. To find peace."

Massoudi endured chemotherapy. And a double mastectomy. She then pursued alternative medicine, naturopathic treatments and an improved diet.

Eventually, she found the peace she sought. And it so impacted her that she made the move from scientist to emotional healing coach.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Mehrnaz Massoudi

"As you can see," she said Thursday evening, showing a healthy dose of that inner strength, "I'm presenting my body without prosthetics. Without apologizing in this patriarchal society for not having breasts."

Maybe so. But she isn't without friends. She was stopped for hugs and hellos numerous times during our chat.

"When people read my book," she said, "they see I talk about soul tribes. When we come here, we are souls, we are not this physical human being. Me, and the illness, these are all physically limiting. We are souls. We are beautiful souls.

"And you know, the diagnosis was 23 years ago. As of right now, there is no cancer in my body. But you never know. I have other health issues. I have chronic lung illness.

"But the disease is not me. I am so much bigger than the disease. I do have a respirologist, I am on medication. But my soul is much more powerful than all of this."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Carl Meadows

As too was the evening. Massoudi was perhaps most pleased with the short but meaningful exchange between Harris and Meadows as the former left the stage area and the latter arrived.

"It was about Carl, with his wings, holding and comforting Mia with the light and love of an angel," she said. "And that’s really the theme of the book. We suffer, we go through so much suffering, and the book brings different angles of healing."

All proceeds from the launch, including book sales, were donated to Penticton-based womens' shelter South Okanagan Women In Need Society (SOWINS).

For more info on Mehrnaz Massoudi and She's Still Here, check out her website.

Send your comments, news tips, typos, letter to the editor, photos and videos to [email protected].

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