You are here

Melissa Etheridge on Life After Breast Cancer


In her 2005 battle with breast cancer, Melissa Etheridge survived a lumpectomy plus five rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. The experience led her to make over her lifestyle: She committed herself to working every day to keep her body healthy and strong. Here, the two-time Grammy Award winner and mother of two reveals how positive thinking helped her endure uncomfortable treatments and what eating habits she's changed since becoming cancer-free. Brace yourself: this is one rocker sure to inspire.

Q: Did you think breast cancer couldn't happen to you?

We all have this sense of invincibility. Even though my father, aunt and grandmother passed away from cancer—it was all over my family—I was surprised to hear the diagnosis. The possibility might have been somewhere in the back of my head, but I wasn't walking around thinking this would happen.

Q: What was it like hearing the test results?

I had been running along in my life at a fast pace. When I heard it was cancer, I just stood still. My life passed over me like a big wave, and after, I was left there standing. This turned out to be a very good thing. I stopped. I looked at my life, I looked at my body and spirit. I got a new perspective. That's brought me incredible clarity and a lot of peace.

Q: Were you ever afraid you might die?

Once I overcame breast cancer, I wasn't afraid of anything anymore. I now have a different relationship with fear. There are only two things in our reality, love and fear. I try to make my choices out of love.

Q: You once gave advice on staying healthy saying, "nutrition, nutrition." Why?

It's not about eating blandly or unimaginatively, but being aware of the food going into your body—where it comes from, what's been done to it. I adopted a healthier diet. I take at least a tablespoon of apple-cider vinegar a day. It's an old wives' tale, but it really is one of the best things you can put in your mouth. I also eat a salad every day. At this point, I really don't want to eat leafy greens, but I know I need to put this stuff in my body to feel good. I stopped eating refined sugar—once you get past the cravings, you can leave it behind. Now, if I popped a candy into my mouth the rush would be so intense, I'd have to sit down.

Q: What role did music play in your recovery?

I changed, so my music changed. Right after I finished chemo I got up in front of the world and sang a tribute to Janis Joplin at the Grammy's. That musical experience changed my life. I found the energy to get up and say, this is what I'm supposed to do, I'm a rock 'n' roll artist, and here I am, singing. That gave me courage.

Q: You took to the stage bald and with no eyebrows. That's powerful.

It was funny. My surgeon said 'you'll lose your hair, so get a wig.' But I've never been the type to not be who I am, to not be truthful. I've always been upfront. So I said, why should I hide my truth? I had cancer. I had chemotherapy. I lost my hair. There's no shame in that.

Q: You believe in the power of positive thinking. Did this help you heal?

I was lying there in chemo. I couldn't move because it was painful. I couldn't listen to anything. I couldn't have any lights on. After weeks and weeks, I ran out of things to think about. That's when the chatter in my mind stopped and I realized that my body didn't define me. It was what was inside and around it, this amazing spirit, this soul, that did. When you really comprehend that, everything starts to make sense. Our society, where we are right now, our minds are junkyards. We watch TV and sit on the computer all day and barely have an original thought. We need to get back to that clarity. Our thoughts are all-powerful.

Photo shot at Hard Rock International's Pinktober event at Hard Rock Cafe Hollywood.