Her husband was her rock, her manager, her behind-the-scenes support system. Then came a stunning role reversal, and the singer discovered a voice (and an identity) she didn't know existed.
I am the youngest of 14 children in a close-knit family, so I had lots of people watching out for me and giving me loving support from a very early age. A brother or sister was always there to take me to school or help me with my homework. My mom wrote all my first songs, and when it became clear that singing was my dream, she arranged for me to meet with one of the best-known music producers in Canada, René Angélil. He agreed to become my manager, and my career was born.
From there, things took off so quickly that I didn't have time to stop and think about everything that was happening to me, but I never had to; René made all the decisions for me. He arranged the meetings and placed the phone calls. He picked my songs and planned when and where I would go on tour. I had to focus only on my passion: my singing. Even after we became husband and wife years later, we were happy to maintain that balance.
All that changed on March 30, 1999, my 31st birthday and the day that René was diagnosed with skin cancer. After nearly five years of marriage and 20 years of working together, my husband, who had always been the one to take care of me, suddenly needed me to take care of him. For the first time in my life, I was in charge. I was no longer merely the performer; I became the manager of both our lives. I placed the phone calls and made the decisions. I coaxed him through the debilitating side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. I cared for him when he couldn't keep his food down or was too weak to get out of bed. I had to be his support and strength. I made sure we were going to embrace life.
Cancer was an incredible challenge for René to go through, and it allowed me to discover strengths that I had never before put into practice. I used to keep everything inside; today I speak up for myself. I pick my own songs. I'll tell a technician that I don't like the way he's lighting me. I've learned to say, This works for me…. That doesn't…. This is unacceptable…. This is how I'd like it to be done. At home I make decisions as a mother, and I communicate my feelings to my husband.
The most important thing I learned, though, is that my life is so much more than show business. Over the years, a lot of people have asked me what I would do if I could no longer sing; it's amazing to me that they think I would lose everything. They don't know—and perhaps I didn't, until this time—that my inner voice is a lot stronger than my singing voice. I am a mother, daughter, sister, and wife, and now I know that if anyone I love ever needs me, I can take care of them.
When people come to me and say, "I want to be just like you; the only thing I want in life is to sing," I tell them this: "Please don't make your career your life." Let it be your passion, let it bring you pleasure, but don't let it become your identity. You are so much more valuable than that.
Learn to build your foundations. Figure out your likes and dislikes, and don't ever be afraid to express them. If you can realize you are capable of many things, you'll be able to survive anything life throws at you.
— As told to Naomi Barr
From the November 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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