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Sheryl Crow Adds Healthy Living to Her Repertoire

After a traumatic year, the singer-songwriter is making music, raising a son, and learning the art of balance.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on April 24, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

Singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow is in a good place. Yes, she’s back on herfarm just outside of Nashville, Tenn., close to family and friends again afterkeeping a demanding winter schedule that took her across the country and toJapan. The rock-country crooner, 47, promoted two albums (Detours andHome for Christmas), made the rounds of chat shows, and performed forthe new First Family in HBO’s “We Are One” concert at the Lincoln Memorial inWashington, D.C. (No slacker, she played a few inaugural balls there, too.) Shewas also a presenter at the 2009 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in February.Nine-time winner Crow’s Detours was nominated for Best Pop VocalAlbum.

But simple geography -- the slower, familiar pace below the Mason-Dixon Line-- is not the only thing making this Kennett, Mo., native smile. The good placeCrow is enjoying right now is coming from within.

“I’m not nearly so hard on myself anymore,” she tells WebMD. “I’ve learnedto stop putting everybody before myself, and to say ‘no’ sometimes, which was ahuge lesson for me. I think women get caught up in that, forgetting about theirown needs.” Even with the international, bicoastal itinerary she’s justwrapped, 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.”

Crow’s other, more publicized, “huge lessons” -- game-changing events thatforced her to reassess her relationships and well-being, leading to a newfoundsense of serenity and self-acceptance -- came in threes: A very public, brokenengagement to world-famous cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong inFebruary 2006. The shock of being diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer a fewweeks later. And finally, becoming a mother for the first time the followingApril. In just over a year’s time, she went from canceling a wedding andgetting a lumpectomy to changing the diapers of her newly adopted son, Wyatt,and singing him lullabies.

“In a way, it was a wonderful life-shifter,” says Crow. The recent upheavalshelped launch the singer on her own winding road toward parenthood,contentment, and good health.

Sheryl Crow: breast cancer survivor

For Crow, the painful breakup with one of cancer’s leading advocates is forever linked to her own battle with the disease -- and to Wyatt’s adoption, which she began pursuing while undergoing radiation treatments.

“I’ve had maternal instincts since I was really young,” she says now. “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 to open that door.”

Before she could welcome baby Wyatt through that door, however, Crow had to heal, physically and emotionally. During the frenzied paparazzi aftermath of her split with Armstrong -- “When you’re most down, the tabloids are most interested,” she says ruefully -- she did her best to stay above the fray by lying low and following doctor’s orders.

First, there was the routine mammogram that 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, but her ob/gyn 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.”

“Early detection saves lives,” says Eric Winer, MD, chief of the Division of Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Stage 1 breast cancer -- like Sheryl had -- is defined as a tumor less than or equal to 2 cm with negative [presence] in the lymph nodes, and it has a very, very good long-term prognosis because it’s been caught so early. Ninety-five percent of women with stage 1 will be alive in five years, and a great many are cancer-free. In fact, most are cured of their cancers.”

“I was told I had dense breasts,” Crow tells WebMD, a factor that has been linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer, according to Winer, who is also the chief scientific adviser for Susan G. Komen for the Cure and a leading expert on the disease. “We’re not exactly sure why there is a correlation, but there seems to be one. Breast density also makes it that much more difficult to find cancer on mammograms,” he says.

Sheryl Crow on breast cancer recovery

Crow’s breast cancer treatment consisted of minimally invasive surgery -- alumpectomy, where a surgeon excises only the tumor and a clear margin aroundit, leaving the breast intact -- followed by a seven-week course of radiation.A post-treatment mammogram showed she was in remission and cancer-free. Sheremains so to this day.

The experience “woke me up,” she says. “I was no longer dulled out. … Ithink I was conscious before, but having cancer really opened my eyes.” Afterstaring down her own mortality, Crow knew it was time to build the family she’dalways wanted, and on her own terms.

In the wake of a broken heart and a recovering body, Crow “didn’t go outmuch. … I took care of myself, and I learned the only way to get through griefis to grieve, to experience those emotions. I would tell people when I neededspace, if I needed them to run an errand for me. And I allowed myself to sleepas much as I wanted to, and to do absolutely nothing … and I let myself feeleverything.”

She also began meditating, the art of sitting with oneself in silence,during this time. “As Westerners, we try to stay busy. We say: ‘Just don’tthink about it, get on with things.’ But for me, meditating is tantamount toquieting the brain.” Crow says it helped her through those few rough months andthat she continues the practice now, every day.

After her diagnosis, Crow retreated to Nashville to be closer to herparents, who still reside in her hometown of Kennett just a few hours away. “Ineeded my family around me [during treatment],” she says. “What resonated withme was trying to live a normal life, as normal as I could.”

Sheryl Crow on adoption

She also needed to provide a home far from intrusive eyes for her new son,who was delivered into Crow’s arms when he was just a day old, after a seriesof heart-tugging disappointments. “I met with a few different moms, and[adoption arrangements] all fell apart for one reason or another … but thenWyatt came through!” Even now, two years later, there is real glee in her voicewhen she says these words.

Asked about the adoption process, and if she has any advice for otherparents now going down that road, she answers, “It was sort of like a recipe:Follow the directions carefully and you’ll get the right outcome.” But theright outcome took time. “They don’t put you at the front of the line justbecause you’re a rock star,” Crow was quoted as saying in 2007. “I went throughthe proper channels and did it just like everybody else. I went through anagency. I filled out a lot of paperwork. ... This was a closed adoption, but Ihave a physical description and the medical history of the parents, which isreally great because you know what your child is in for regarding medicalissues.”

Seeking medical information was a wise thing to do, says Deborah Borchers,MD, a founding member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Adoptionand Foster Care, “especially since many diseases do not present until the 20sor 30s, and may become issues [later] with the child’s [biological]grandparents.” Borchers adds that children available for adoption may havespecial needs, including medical, developmental, and mental health challengesarising from the effects of drug or alcohol use by the mother, poverty, abuse,and separation from biological parents.

Biology aside, the connection Crow felt with her new son was immediate andlasting. “Wyatt is the first thing I think about in the morning and the lastthing at night,” the singer says of motherhood. “I never knew my heart could beso expansive, could feel such love and joy. Becoming a mother changed how Ilook at the world.”

Did the threat of her cancer’s returning ever give her pause as she wasdealing with the paperwork and readying Wyatt’s nursery? “Never,” says Crow, alongtime health advocate who had performed for breast cancer events, such asRevlon’s Run/Walk, for years before becoming involved with Armstrong and facingthe condition herself. “My cancer was caught so early, I was lucky … and Icouldn’t live my life in fear. It made me more self-examining, sure, butbecoming a mother was something I needed to do.”

 

Sheryl Crow on being a mother

Wyatt, who turned 2 on April 29, is now “testing his boundaries and throwingmock tantrums. I find it so difficult not to laugh when he does this,” Crowtells WebMD. “I do everything I can to show him I’m taking it seriously becausehe is so dramatic. … And he is just a good-natured little boy.” Crow alsoreports that her son is “very social and confident,” loves “hanging out with my[band’s] guitar player,” and is “super-close to my dad.” She depends on herparents more these days, she admits, and is happy to have always had a closerelationship with both of them.

As for her own parenting philosophy, it can be summed up in five words:“Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Crow believes that “being an older mom works tomy advantage, because I’m easier-going now. I’m less critical of myself, moreserene … so if Wyatt wants to play in the dirt, I’m all for it. I don’t getworked up, say, about some mess he makes.”

Unlike some mothers, who allow personal ambition to sit on the back burnerwhile they focus fully on the kids, Crow says Wyatt reignited her drive andcreativity. “[My ambition] started to wane four or five years ago. I justdidn’t have it in me to tour, to work constantly. But I had a resurgence withWyatt, the desire to make music. So much is going on in the world, and hecreated a new sense of urgency in me to give voice to my concerns.”

Sheryl Crow on the environment

Still, Crow claims she’s “always been into politics and been outspoken allthe way back to the early days, such as with The Walden Woods Project,” anenvironmental group created in 1990 by singer Don Henley to save Thoreau’sWalden Pond from development. 

Pressing environmental issues, from a melting polar ice cap to overflowinglandfills, alarm Crow; she inspired headlines with her 2007 “Stop GlobalWarming College Tour” on a bio-diesel bus with environmentalist and AnInconvenient Truth producer Laurie David and has long supported the NaturalResources Defense Council’s environmental advocacy. Crow also sounds thewarning cry about everyday toxins, especially now that she has Wyatt’sdevelopment and future to worry about.

“We have to educate ourselves,” she says. “Find out what affects us in ourdaily lives, from the foods we eat to cleaning products around the home. … Ionly feed Wyatt organic food. I use earth-friendly cleaning products and drinkwater that’s filtered. No bottles -- it’s such a waste, all that plastic. … Weas consumers must become conscious of our daily decisions; it’s consumerismthat endangers the environment.”

One website she uses frequently is Healthy Child Healthy World(www.healthychild.org, an editorial partner with WebMD). “It’s a great place toget ideas for daily living,” Crow says, “to live a greener life.” She evencontributed a page to the organization’s 2008 book, Healthy Child HealthyWorld: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home, writing about the hope andresilience children bring to such problems as global warming. “Kids are soacutely aware and smart; they will be the ones to motivate us, their parents,to change,” says Crow.

 

Sheryl Crow on healthy living

As for her famously fit body, Crow monitors everything that goes into it. “Ieat chicken, fish, occasional red meat, loads of vegetables, plus lots ofomega-3s and antioxidants.” She also gives thanks to her own DNA. “I’mgenetically blessed. My mom has wonderful skin. And I take care of myself. Iget up and meditate. ... I’ll work out on the elliptical machine and do core[abdominal] work. I used to run, but now it’s just too hard on my knees. SoI’ll do Pilates or yoga instead.”

For a woman who looks not merely years but even decades younger than mostwomen pushing 50, does aging scare her? “Not particularly,” she answers.“Certain things have changed with getting older, like not being able to runlike I used to. But when I look in the mirror, I try to embrace those thingsand find the value in what I can do now. It has so much to do withattitude.”

Crow also believes in finding balance, now that she’s juggling a megawattcareer with play dates and preschool applications. “I take care of my health,”she says. “Sleeping is major for me. Meditating creates space in my life. Iknow how to say ‘no’ now, and move on. I listen to my body … and I don’t workas hard as I used to.

“There are certain choices I make,” Crow adds. “And I choose quality oflife. Every time.”

Sheryl Crow on how to say “no”

Of course, saying “yes” to quality of life often means saying “no” toothers’ requests (or demands) -- a feat that many women finddifficult. Crow herself didn’t discover how to do it until her breastcancer scare forced her to put her own needs first -- a new experience for her.“The problem is that women were never taught how to say ‘no’,” says RebeccaAdams, PhD, associate professor of family studies in the Department of Familyand Consumer Sciences at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. And thistranslates into their saying “yes” -- to their spouses, children, bosses, andvolunteer groups -- when they ought to be saying: “I’m sorry, I just can’t takethat on right now.”

Adams offers these tips for mothers who want to learn how to say “no”now:

Make a conscious effort. “So often, once baby comes, both men andwomen slip back into traditional gender roles,” she says. “Women need to say,‘Yes, I’m staying home, but my expectation is that we are both involved, fromchanging diapers to child care.’” Even if these familial roles have come tofeel cemented, Adams believes that the first step is acknowledging things areout of balance and specifically setting out to make a change.

Have a family powwow. Start the conversation with your husband orpartner, and then include the kids if they are old enough, says Adams. Even ifyou’ve been married for 10 years, it’s never too late to start talking.“Explain to your spouse why you need to say ‘no’ sometimes, why you need moretime for yourself or simply can’t take on a specific chore or responsibility …and tell your kids that mom cannot be on call 24/7.”

Remind them. After the big talk, there’s bound to be regression --family dynamics are years in the making, after all. “Simply say, ‘Kids, wetalked about this,’ or ‘Honey, my new expectation is this.’”

Banish the guilt. Working mothers and stay-at-home moms have onething in common: guilt. “Traditional mothers may feel like, since they’re home,they have to be supermoms,” says Adams. “So they try to be perfect,overcompensating and taking on everyone’s needs while ignoring their own. Andsome of these moms inadvertently encourage dependence over independence,because satisfying their child’s every need makes them feel needed. Conversely,working moms sometimes rush home and, feeling guilty for missing out on somuch, don’t set limits with their kids, setting themselves up to be used.Neither approach is healthy for anyone.”

Foster independence -- for everyone. That means for mothers,partners, and kids. “We live a lot longer these days,” says Adams. “Not only isit important for both mothers and fathers to foster healthy independence intheir kids at a very young age, it’s essential for women to look beyond theirmarriages, too. … If women solely see their role as ‘mom,’ they will havedifficult years ahead after their children leave the home. Women and theirhusbands need to have other things going on outside of the marriage.”

Show Sources

Sources:

Interview with Sheryl Crow. Dr. Eric Winer, MD, chief of the Division of Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Deborah Borchers, MD, founding member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Adoption and Foster Care. Rebecca Adams, PhD,, Associate Professor Family Studies, etc. “Sheryl Crow” official website.  Walden Woods Project.

 

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