What I've Learned
Cancer really touched my life and is continuing to touch it. I have so many friends going through it at the moment. I am a different person now. It’s not something that happens overnight but you grow. I have a friend who’s a Buddhist. When I received the news I had cancer, he said something to me at the time that seemed odd but now I totally understand. He said: congratulations, because now you will grow. It’s just the way you look at something. I was lucky enough to survive it and I grew in a lot of ways because of that experience.
I did everything: prayed, chanted with my Buddhist friends, went to church, did meditation, drew on everything because I believed they all had something valid to offer, and it’s what you choose to believe in. I haven’t taken on one belief system, though, I have my own faith and nature is a big part of that, too.
I initially considered not doing any Western medicine. I was afraid of chemotherapy. Then a friend said to me, why take the risk, do it as an insurance policy. It was frightening. That was the thing I was most scared of, chemotherapy, actually. It wasn’t as bad as I had expected. I think the thought of everything is always much worse than the reality. I was a little sick. I didn’t feel well for a couple of days and I’d go to bed. Then I’d have acupuncture and I found a wonderful doctor who put me on herbs and vitamins and I really believe that kept my immune system strong. I didn’t feel great for a couple of years but I was alive and I was over it.
My daughter was seven at the time. I didn’t tell her (I had cancer) because she’d just lost her best friend to cancer. So if I said the word cancer the fear would be so strong in her and I didn’t want her to go through that. On the days when I had treatment and had to go to bed for a day I’d just say I wasn’t feeling well or make sure she spent a day with a girlfriend or had a sleepover. I obviously managed it pretty well. I think if I’d lost my hair I would have had to say something. I lost some, but not all of it. My doctor put an ice cap on my head and that was supposed to help; when you get the first surge of chemical it’s what affects your hair. I also used special shampoos.
The more years go on, the fear gets less. Once you get to five years they say you’re in remission. I don’t even like the word remission; I say it’s not coming back. If I was ever unlucky enough for it to happen to me again it would be a shock to me because as far as I’m concerned it’s gone. Remission sounds like it’s lurking somewhere.
None of us thinks we can get through things like that, but when you have to, you do. You find your source of strength. I’m lucky that I have a sunny outlook on life anyway. But in the end it’s really up to you as an individual because you have to believe that you will get well. Positive thinking and inner strength is very important.
After September 11 they invited entertainers to go and be supportive to the clean-up crews at the World Trade Centre and the firefighters. It was actually the day after my birthday, September 27. It was Brooke Shields and myself and a country and western singer. We took a boat down and it was quite eerie because the closer you got, the smell got stronger and you could see smouldering. The firefighters’ precinct was spooky. It was covered in soot and there were all these helmets hanging there - most of those people never came back. There was a big bit of twisted metal and lots of people in different kinds of uniform and we just wandered through and talked to them. One of my strongest memories was of a man with a German shepherd rescue dog. I said, how’s your dog. He said he was depressed. I said why? He said because he hasn’t found anybody. That really drove it home to me. I don’t really want to get political about it. I don’t like violence of any kind. With all the knowledge we have and all the technology, we still can’t come to peaceful resolutions or know how to talk to each other. That’s sad.
There’s so many things to help with and you don’t know where to start, do you? Saving the bears, I try to help with that. Do you know about the poor bears in China, the bile bears? I did a program on bears. I’ve always had an affinity with bears. The first pieces of furniture I bought in America were carvings of bears. When I heard the story about the bears in China it was so cruel, it made me cry.
I get approached to get involved in a lot of things all the time. It’s hard because I can’t cut myself up into little pieces. Sometimes I’ll give money if I can’t give my time; an autographed thing for an auction, whatever I can do to help. My daughter is just starting out (as a singer) and she has a strong mind of her own, what she wants to do and what she won’t do. My only advice to her and to all singers is, be yourself and do what’s right for you.
It would have been very different had I been starting out today because I was a bit shy. For me, Physical was a bit over the top and I wasn’t even wearing sexy clothing, like how the girls dress now. I probably would have been told that I had to dress more provocatively and I don’t know if I would have been comfortable with it, really. Lucky I don’t have to find out.