On stage, the angelic voice of Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Jewel can change to big, bold, and soulful in a heartbeat. Turns out that happens offstage, too — which we discovered when we talked with the 37-year-old Alaska native about National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Jewel spoke intimately about supporting two close friends as they battled the disease and turned up the volume when she got to the topic of women’s health rights in general. Listen as this brand new mom (her son Kase was born in July) makes her voice heard.
Parent & Child: Tell us about your two friends’ battles with breast cancer. What did you learn from those experiences?
Jewel: I saw both outcomes — one is a survivor and the other passed away. My friend who passed away was in her 50s and I had known her before I got into the music business. My other friend was diagnosed in 2001 when she was in her 30s and fought it for a year. She is still cancer free. Both women found it difficult to get information. One was living in a small town and I tried to help her research the options offered beyond what the local doctor could provide. I learned that you have to be your own health advocate and be tenacious to find the help you need.
P&C: Did those experiences fuel your drive to support women’s health?
Jewel: It made me aware of many women’s issues that don’t get talked about. For instance, I didn’t think about the ramifications involved in not allowing women to stay overnight in the hospital after a mastectomy. I wasn’t aware that women were being sent home right away. I thought that decision was up to the doctor.
P&C: Is that what led you to travel to Washington in 2006 and urge Congress to pass the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act?
Jewel: There are many issues in which women aren’t given a front seat, and health care is the biggest. The fact that women have to go home right away after a mastectomy is shocking and wrong. If men [had a similar issue with their bodies] you know they would take a stand. [Editor’s note: The Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act, a bill first proposed in 1996, would require health insurers to cover a minimum of a 48-hour hospital stay following a mastectomy. The bill remains stalled.]
P&C: What are you doing these days to advocate for women’s health?
Jewel: I’m hosting the third season of a series on the Veria TV network called The Incurables. It’s about miraculous recovery stories, many of which involve breast cancer survivors who promote natural lifestyles after overcoming life-threatening diseases. It’s meant to inspire viewers.
P&C: Are you a proponent of natural lifestyles — or alternative therapies?
Jewel: A holistic approach is important. If you want alternative therapy, find a doctor who will incorporate it. I also believe in self-exams and early detection. It upsets me that some women are so frightened of breast cancer that they skip their annual mammogram.
P&C: Some people say the public is oversaturated with “pink” awareness events each October. What do you think about that?
Jewel: I think the events are great! When you shine a light on something, it takes the shame out of it. The shame is especially strong when it comes to breast cancer. My husband Ty is a rodeo cowboy, and he participates in an event where he uses pink ropes and wears a pink shirt. The more you see this issue talked about or in a magazine, the more people become aware.
P&C: Congratulations, by the way, to you and Ty on your newest little family member.
Jewel: Thanks. I love life as a new mom. I’ve got something new to learn every day. It’s funny, even though you carry your baby all those months, you’re still strangers when he arrives. I’m very sleep deprived, but my whole career prepared me well for life as a new mom.
P&C: Some first-time moms can be anxious. I know it’s early yet, but how would you describe your mom style?
Jewel: I’m super type A in general. Very organized, über researched. When I was pregnant I had a talk with myself. I realized I couldn’t control everything. As a new mom, you have to have a sense of humor because you’re tired and know so little; it stirs up your insecurities. You have to throw up your hands and laugh!
P&C: Any big “aha!” moments?
Jewel: There’ve been a million. As simple as it is, the fact that I can comfort Kase was a big one.
P&C: Have you made plans for a first date night with Ty since Kase was born?
Jewel: Not yet. Seeing what a great dad your husband is makes you love him more. It’s a whole new romance. We’ve been together for 13 years. In Hollywood, that’s like 100 years!
P&C: You have a new CD of children’s songs out in September called The Merry Go Round. Tell us about it.
Jewel: I wrote it and recorded it when I was six months pregnant. Fifteen songs in five days. It was a project — I thought about what I would like to say to my son, how I could teach him not to be afraid of the dark, how I can tell him I love him in a way that’s new and fresh and will excite his imagination.
P&C: What’s your favorite song on the CD?
Jewel: One is “Just Like Penguins Do.” You’ll always love each other the way penguins do. It’s poetic and sweet.
P&C: Are there any final messages about raising breast cancer awareness that you’d like to share?
Jewel: Yes. I’m no doctor, but every woman should get to know her breasts. There are normal lumps, depending on the time of the month. You need to know your baseline. Also, everyone should find and sign the online petition to urge Congress to bring the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act to the floor for a vote. No woman should suffer the indignity of trying to care for herself at a time when she and her doctor feel the hospital may be the best place to recover.
Jewel stepped up to support her friends in their times of need. Click on the next page to read about three teachers who got support from their students upon being diagnosed with breast cancer.