Raspy and real, Melissa Etheridge is a woman who rocks. Adored by her fans, this multiplatinum artist has sold more than 25 million records. Just a year ago, Melissa was in her prime, joyfully surrounded by her two children and the love of her life, actress Tammy Lynn Michaels.
Then suddenly at age 43, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Melissa says her journey brought her closer to hell than she's ever been. But Melissa proved she is a survivor: Just weeks after undergoing grueling chemotherapy, she emerged truly triumphant. Bald and beautiful, Melissa returned to the spotlight and performed at the 2005 Grammy Awards ceremony.
For Melissa, it was a defining moment not only in her career. "It was big for me but in a very personal way," says Melissa. "I wasn't thinking about the world. I was thinking about how I wanted to get back and do what I do." Despite being weakened by the cancer treatment, Melissa rocked the stage that evening. "It was important for me to get back up, get up on the horse and ride," she says.
In October 2004, Melissa discovered a lump in her breast while showering. "I looked down and went, 'Holy cow! What is that?' It was like it popped up overnight," she says. Melissa took action immediately, grateful to have the support of her family from the start. "I discovered it on a Thursday, I flew home on a Saturday where Tammy and my kids could see it. And it was an interesting thing because my kids were able to go through the whole journey with me."
Melissa had a lumpectomy to remove the tumor, followed by chemotherapy. She says undergoing chemo was the most painful part of her treatment: "It is like nothing you've ever imagined before. It is taking you as close to death [as you can get], because…it kills every dividing cell in your body." After treatment, Melissa says, "My eyes would start glassing over. You go away. You go to this place inside where everything—your whole body—is in pain."
During her recovery, Melissa spent many long hours lying in bed. The pain was so excruciating at times that even watching TV or listening to music was unbearable. But Melissa says that because of her treatment and recovery, she found "an amazing meditation."
Melissa shared what her time spent in recovery revealed to her. "It was perspective. It was—this is my body and this is my mind, and my mind is still going. My spirit is going. I have love. I have feelings. I have thoughts. I have a whole world going on. But my body is not available to me now. And so I…I now no longer fear death because I know that, yeah, this body goes away…it will terminate. But, that which is inside me goes on and on no matter what. And it really raised me up to that. That energy."
Melissa credits one of her doctors for giving her hope early on. "She looked at me and said, 'Melissa, whatever this is, whatever road you have to go down, believe me, you will be fine,'" says Melissa. "That really set me on the road. And I kept that in mind. I will be fine."
While acknowledging the seriousness of cancer, Melissa says it's important for all those affected by the disease to have an attitude of hope. "Cancer holds a lot of power," she says. "There are so many advances nowadays. Breast cancer especially. Yes, you can die from it. Absolutely. But that's not the only end to it. There are millions of cancer survivors."
Inspired by her battle with cancer, Melissa Etheridge performs "I Run For Life." The song is from her album, Greatest Hits: The Road Less Traveled, a collection of her greatest hits coupled with some jamming new tracks!
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