Melissa Etheridge's Battle With Breast Cancer

Melissa Etheridge opens up about fear, death and why she quit chemo.

 

Six years ago, Melissa Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer. Today, she’s cancer free and one of the celebrity survivors taking part in “1 a Minute LIVE,” a panel discussion and film that will be broadcast nationwide via satellite to select theaters on October 6, 2010. Donations from the event will support Susan G. Komen for the Cure to raise money for breast cancer research. MORE recently talked with Etheridge about "1 a Minute" and what she’s learned since her diagnosis.

Q: What made you want to be a part of the 1 A Minute LIVE event?

A: I had been approached by many different organizations and people [to get involved with projects]. Some were connected to drug companies or were about raising money for drug companies. They all meant well and good, but I have a specific perception about what health and cancer is, so I said no to a lot of things. The creator of 1 a Minute, Namrata Singh Gujral, wanted me to speak my truths. She’s a woman who’s also been affected by breast cancer and kind of had the same reaction to it that I did, which is: This is all we have? You’ve got to be kidding me. Something’s got to change. That’s really what drew me to it.

Q: What’s the premise of the film?

A: It’s a global look at the countries that are being hit by breast cancer and how, as well as the different cultural ways of responding to it—what’s being done, what can be done—which I find just fascinating.

Q: The film is being released 6 years to the month of your diagnosis. Do you look at that moment differently now.

A: Oh, yeah. You can react and make it be whatever you want it to be. I had been asking myself some philosophical questions about my life anyway at the time I got the diagnosis. It helped me shed many of my old ways of thinking and reacting. It really helped put me on a new path of understanding life and happiness and what my purpose is.

Q: What brought you to that understanding?

A: It came about during treatment. The chemotherapy was 10 weeks of being so close to death that the only thing that would keep the pain away was perfect stillness—no sound, no light, no anything. And it actually got me into a very meditative state and opened up a lot of spiritual stuff inside me.

Q: Did you discover any misconceptions you had about the disease?

A: I didn’t really understand how much cancer, the way that people treat cancer and the whole medical set up is based on numbers and averages. It’s kind of a conveyor-belt mentality that doesn’t look at individuals and I was a little taken aback by that. I think our system is outdated.

Q: Did that affect the way you made decisions? Did you ever go against the grain in terms of treatment options?

A: Oh yeah. I actually didn’t finish my treatment. I didn’t get the last 3 chemotherapy treatments because the side effects of the Taxol that they were giving me was neuropathy, which is loss of feeling in your fingers. And being a musician, my fingers are my life. All the side effects were so much more harmful than the 2% chance it was giving me that my cancer wouldn’t come back. It wasn’t worth it.

Q: You’ve been cancer free for five years. What was key to your recovery?

A: It was the way I chose to look at it, I think. And of course my friends and family and my loved ones were just incredible. They didn’t treat me like I was contagious. They just supported me.

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