Sheryl Crow was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer in February 2006, by way of a routine mammogram. At just 44 years old, she eventually had a lumpectomy (or the removal of cancerous tissue) in both breasts, and she underwent radiation.
Now 57, Crow says her ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) diagnosis taught her a lot, and has even shaped the way she practices self-care today—particularly about putting her own health first, and finding a community that champions that.
“With your diagnosis comes a lesson, and for women who’ve shared their lesson with me, it’s almost always the same,” Crow tells Health—that taking care of yourself should be a priority. “Women are overachievers," says Crow. “We take care of the people around us while we work and do a thousand [other] things."
Because of that, Crow says women who have been through a breast cancer diagnosis, or who are currently battling breast cancer, must learn "how to put on their oxygen mask first before putting it on anyone else." For Crow, that was difficult. "I was a caretaker, and that was my challenge: to use my voice to explain what I needed and what I didn’t need—and say no and listen to my body.”
Luckily, Crow found a community of women sharing her struggles to help teach her those lessons and propel her forward. "Once you get diagnosed, you find that there’s a whole community of women who find each other—in Starbucks, in airports, in hotel lobbies, just everywhere—who will share their story,” says Crow.
Now, having been in remission for more than a decade, Crow still practices self-care methods she learned after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer—particularly meditation. "Our brain is so overactive, and it’s been programed to judge everything—your own performance, everyone around us,” she says. That’s where meditation comes into play for her: “It definitely does help in stopping the constant overload of brain stimulation that is constantly telling us where our shortcomings are, where we’re failing.” She adds that meditating can help keep our patience and compassion for others intact. Crow also credits cutting out dairy, going (mostly) gluten-free, and working out with a rowing machine with helping her stay healthy.
In addition to sharing her self-care tips, Crow also has advice for women who don't necessarily stay on top of their yearly mammogram appointments: "The statistic is one in eight women will be diagnosed in their lifetime," she says. "I was one of those women who had no family history and was super healthy, and I wound up being the one in eight.”
And while Crow understands that cancelling and rescheduling appointments does happen—mainly with the excuse of "I'm too busy,"—she says there's really no excuse that justifiies not making your health a priority sooner rather than later. "I say to women who want to put it off: It can be the difference in having a minimal treatment or having chemo or worse than that—the risk of it being fatal."
As for women who have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, or women who have gotten another type of devastating news, Crow also has a message for them: "Don't stop breathing." She adds that there are "a thousand ways to be traumatized in life—from losing a job to having a spouse walk out, [to] a death in the family." That's why she says being mindful of your breathing is so necessary. "The only way to keep yourself in your body…is to remember to breathe."
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