Three years ago, singer Sheryl Crow, 47, suffered a painful (and public) breakup with her fiance, cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, just weeks before receiving her own breast cancer diagnosis. Forced to nurture herself as she mended a broken heart and recovering body, the Grammy Award-winning superstar examined how she was living life and decided to make some changes.
“In a way, it was a wonderful life-shifter,” Crow tells WebMD of her daunting ordeal. The tough times helped launch the Missouri-born musician on her own winding road toward motherhood, inner peace, and good health. Here, Crow shares the most important lessons she learned along the way:
1. Learn how to say no.
“I’m not nearly so hard on myself anymore,” she tells WebMD. “I’ve learned to stop putting everybody before myself, and to say ‘no’ sometimes, which was a huge lesson for me. I think women get caught up in that, forgetting about their own needs.” Even with an international, bicoastal tour she’s just wrapped, Crow claims she does “only what I want to do” these days, and that “for every 10 requests I get now, I might say ‘yes’ to one.”
2. Get a second opinion.
After a routine mammogram revealed “suspect” calcifications in both of her breasts, a radiologist suggested she return for another mammogram in six months’ time to take a second look. Her ob-gyn, however, urged immediate biopsies. “Thank goodness I listened to [my doctor],” Crow says, “because my cancer was caught in the earliest stages. I am the poster child for early detection.”
3. Give yourself permission.
Having cancer “woke me up,” Crow says. “I was no longer dulled out.” After staring down her own mortality, the singer knew it was time to build the family she’d always wanted, and on her own terms. But first she had to heal; she needed time to rebound from a broken heart and ailing body. “I didn’t go out much,” she tells WebMD. “I took care of myself, and I learned the only way to get through grief is to grieve, and to experience those emotions. I would tell people when I needed space, if I needed them to run an errand for me. And I allowed myself to sleep as much as I wanted to, and to do absolutely nothing ... and I let myself feel everything.”
4. Look within.
“As Westerners, we try to stay busy. We say: ‘Just don’t think about it, get on with things.’” To slow herself down, Crow started a new habit: meditating. “For me, meditating is tantamount to quieting the brain.” Crow says that the practice of sitting with oneself in silence helped her get those rough months, and that she continues the practice now, every day.
5. Stop waiting for Mr. Right.
“I’ve had maternal instincts since I was really young,” Crow says. “But I had to let go of what I envisioned a family was supposed to look like. I always saw myself with the traditional husband and the kids and the dog, but letting go of all that created opportunity. The best thing I could do was open that door.” Accepting a new notion of what a family could look like led Crow to adopt her son, Wyatt, now 2, as a single mother.
6. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Crow summarizes her own parenting philosophy as: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” And she credits her age and experience with her relaxed approach. “Being an older mom works to my advantage, because I’m easier-going now. I’m less critical of myself, more serene ... so if Wyatt wants to play in the dirt, I’m all for it. I don’t get worked up, say, about some mess he makes.”
7. Live leaner and greener.
A longtime environmentalist, Crow sounds the warning cry about everyday toxins, especially now that she has Wyatt’s development and future to worry about. “We have to educate ourselves,” she says. “Find out what affects us in our daily lives, from the foods we eat to the cleaning products around the home. ... I use earth-friendly cleaning products and drink water that’s filtered. No bottles -- it’s such a waste, all that plastic. ... We as consumers must become conscious of our daily decisions, it’s consumerism that endangers the planet.”
8. Make choices for you.
Crow eats well, exercises regularly, and refuses to worry about aging. “Things have changed with getting older, like not being able to [jog] like I used to. But when I look in the mirror, I try to embrace those things and find the value in what I can do now.” She also believes in chasing ambition, and in fact, credits Wyatt with reigniting her desire to perform and express herself, but to remember to stop and smell the roses along the way, whether that means making time to hang at the playground with her kid, sleep, meditate, or go on tour. “I listen to my body, and I don’t work as hard as I used to,” she says.
“There are certain choices I make. And I choose quality of life, every time.”
Adapted from the cover story of WebMD the Magazine’s March/April 2009 issue. Read the complete story here.