Like the nearly 200,000 women newly diagnosed with invasive breast cancer each year, pop star Sheryl Crow was shocked to learn she had the disease. Now almost five years in, this survivor — and new mom — wants to help women receive more compassionate and affordable breast cancer treatment.
Sheryl Crow squeezes every bit of energy her 5'3" frame contains into her guitar-playing and singing. And she has a lot of energy. Watch her strut the stage, blasting chords and working the crowd with a soulful growl here, a pop-inflected high note there. A spitfire with a six-string, she’s earned nine Grammys in her 20-year plus career. Offstage, this 48-year-old pumps that energy into her role as mother of two young boys and a venture that she hopes will rock the health world: the Sheryl Crow Imaging Center, a state-of-the art digital mammography facility that is part of the Pink Lotus Breast Center, a holistic institute dedicated to the prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cancer.
One of the main ideas behind the imaging center that bears Crow’s name and Pink Lotus is to provide a more compassionate setting for dealing with the disease than a traditional multi-issue health center. “At Pink Lotus, a radiologist reads your image right there on the spot so you don’t have to experience those nervous days of waiting,” says Crow, a breast cancer survivor herself. In addition, the centers provide acupuncture and massage services as well as on-site psychologists and support groups to help women process their diagnosis mentally and emotionally. There’s also a nonprofit in place to help those who don’t have insurance.
The first Sheryl Crow Imaging Center opened in the Beverly Hills branch of Pink Lotus in August. Crow looks forward to Pink Lotus branching out beyond its southern California base in the next few years. “Part of going through breast cancer treatment is learning how to voice what you need and surrounding yourself with people who are positive,” says Crow, who received her diagnosis in 2006, at the age of 44.
An Activist Is Born
Like many women who receive a first-time diagnosis of breast cancer, Crow was shocked when she got the word — puzzled even. “I didn’t have a history of the disease in my family,” Crow told P&C. “When they found complications on my mammogram, the radiologist said, ‘We’ll keep an eye on it. Come back in six months.’ But my OB said, ‘Let’s not wait six months. Why would we do that?’ And the cancer turned out to be invasive.”
Crow was immediately sent for a lumpectomy, followed by seven weeks of radiation. “It’s a real show stopper when your doctor tells you you have cancer,” she says. “It brought me to a place of introspection and reflection. I think most women will attest to the fact that when they’ve been diagnosed, there’s a lesson in it. For a lot of us, it’s about learning to say no when we need to and allowing other people to nurture us. Allowing myself to put myself first was my breast cancer lesson.”
Something of an accidental activist, Crow began devouring all the information she could about the disease. When asked about last year’s announcement by the American Cancer Society that a baseline mammogram at 40 isn’t a must for an average-risk woman, the singer’s energy fires up. “I wanted to find out how the doctors I know felt about it,” says Crow. “A hundred percent of the doctors that I feel are the most reputable in the field still contend that at age 40 (or 35 if there is a history), women should have one. When you’re talking about detection being our only hope until we find a cure, it’s better to err on the side of precaution.”
Personal and Public
Crow’s diagnosis was perhaps made more difficult to deal with because of the public nature of her life. Just weeks before, she had gone through a painful breakup with her fiancé, cyclist Lance Armstrong, the seven-time winner of the Tour de France and a testicular cancer survivor. Crow chose not to discuss that situation with P&C, but she observes, “I don’t know if stress caused it, but I think it had a role in the timing of my breast cancer.”
These days, her life is centered on the fulfillment of being a mom to two adopted sons, Wyatt, now 3, and Levi, 6 months, who travel with her when she’s on tour. In a return to her roots (she was born in Kennett, MO, two hours from Memphis), Crow chose to give up the hectic pace of Los Angeles in 2007 and relocated to a working farm outside of Nashville, TN. “My objective is to instill in my kids the values that my parents instilled in me,” she says. “I want my kids to grow up not being spoiled and to understand what it means to work and to be grateful and generous.”
And Crow is still just as devoted to her craft as she was when she got her first big break — as a backup vocalist for Michael Jackson’s Bad World Tour in 1987. Her smash hit “All I Wanna Do” followed seven years later and thrust her to center stage. Earlier this year, she released her seventh studio album, the vintage soul-inspired “100 Miles from Memphis.”
Spreading the Word
Despite her packed schedule, Crow remains energized about maintaining her health and sharing the wealth of information and wisdom she’s gained. She continues her meditation sessions, which she’s done daily for 13 years, and early next year, she’ll release a cookbook she’s co-writing with chef Chuck White, who specializes in healthful recipes that purportedly boost immunity. "I can walk through an airport, and someone will invariably say to me, ‘I am a breast cancer survivor,’” says Crow. “Women in the breast cancer community want to talk about it, and I want any woman who’s embarrassed or afraid to know that she’s not alone.”
As a survivor at four years plus, Crow finds herself in a unique position to focus not only on her own life, but on raising awareness among others. “They say five years is cured so I feel like I’m on my way to being able to say that it’s not coming back. I have an opportunity now to share something important with my fanbase, which is predominantly women: the need to be diligent about mammograms, be familiar with your family history, and know the terrain of your breasts. I want women to be armed with as much information as possible because prevention is the closest we have to a cure until we actually have a cure.”