In 2005, just two weeks after finishing chemotherapy for breast cancer, Melissa Etheridge took stage at the Grammys to sing the rock classic “Piece of My Heart” in memory of Janis Joplin. Bald but bold, her performance was nothing short of triumphant, highlighted by a soulshaking scream before the final chorus that she calls “the most cathartic noise I’ve ever made in my entire life.” “It certainly took the whole experience I’d just been through and just shoved it up to the universe.It really healed me,” she says.

The performance was a symbolic victory over cancer, and an inspiration to women worldwide suffering from the same disease. It left a profound impression on Academy Award winning actress Kathy Bates, who was recovering from ovarian cancer at the time. “When I saw Melissa come out with the bald head, I thought, ‘You know, that’s the way I wish I would’ve done it,’” she says.

“Those hours and days I spent lying there on chemotherapy led me to an enlightenment about life, spirit, purpose, health, what I’m doing here. It just opened a gateway to be able to understand and have joy in life. Cancer is your body’s last wakeup call.”

Renewed, reawakened

Six years later, Etheridge is healthier than she ever knew was possible. “Those hours and days I spent lying there on chemotherapy led me to an enlightenment about life, spirit, purpose, health, what I’m doing here. It just opened a gateway to be able to understand and have joy in life—a change for the better, definitely,” she reflects. “Cancer is your body’s last wakeup call.”

Choosing happiness

Given a second chance, Etheridge has taken enthusiastically to natural, in-season fruits and vegetables, which, along with yoga, help keep her body in balance. She’s also realized the importance of happiness as a safeguard against stress and “emotional toxicity.” “My joy is the most important thing,” she says. “I will never be healthy if I cannot be happy.For my health I need to make the choice to be happy.”

Other roads to healing

Looking back on the experience, Etheridge believes she would seek alternative treatment options if she had to face it again. “Chemotherapy is just gnarly,” she says. “Knowing what I know now, I would not have done it. I believe that more damage was done because of chemo than the tumor and the cancer.” She believes that cancer is already curable through cutting edge treatments offered by doctors and healers, and that healthy choices in life can put up a remarkable defense against the disease. And, naturally, there is something to be said about the restorative properties of rock ‘n’ roll. “Music goes straight past the brain, right into the soul. I take it very seriously as far as healing."