Pop Star Anastacia Battles Cancer

ByABC News

May 2, 2003 -- "You can say what you want about me … try to do what you want to me, but you cannot stop me," she sings in one of her songs. They call her survivor chick. She's an international superstar, who's gone platinum multiple times, selling more than 10 million albums.

She's a sexy siren who has performed with Paul McCartney, Celine Dion and Elton John. She's pop star Anastacia, who seems to have it all but who's fighting the fight of her life.

"I'm pretty much just walking with one foot in front of the other and hoping that the journey, once I'm going through it, it'll be interesting to be able to talk about."

"You had to look at this and say, 'you know, this is a ticking time bomb,'" said Dr. Alexander Swistel.

Before that time bomb exploded, she had fame, travel adoring fans — until one gray day in January. Anastacia, only 34 years old, learned she had breast cancer.

"I wanted to get a breast reduction. And one of the things that I had to do for the pre-op was get a mammogram. And I was kind of perplexed by it. Because I was like isn't that what those old ladies get. Well, I go in for that mammogram and three and a half hours later, my doctor is sort of sitting me down and kind of letting me know that they found something," she said.

What they found were tiny calcium spots, which can indicate cancer. In her attempt to have her double DD cup breasts reduced because of back pain, Anastacia had stumbled upon something far more serious.

‘I've Never Been This Afraid’

Anastacia had ductal in situ Carcinoma … cancer. It was aggressive and fast-moving. Her doctors wanted it out — and quickly. Having no idea of the outcome, Anastacia decided to document her journey — hoping it would help other young women.

She let 20/20 cameras follow her virtually every step of the way, candidly answering questions and talking about her feelings.

"I've never been this afraid. It's just — I'm helpless! At the end of the day no matter what happens, if I do have to take off my breast, if I do have to go through chemo, if I do have to do all the things that go along with this word cancer, I'm gonna be okay. Because, I'm not gonna die. And if I do, I'll die trying," she said.

One month after her diagnosis, Anastacia underwent seven hours of surgery. For Anastacia's mother and sister, the hours during the surgery would crawl by as they waited to see if and where the cancer had spread.

Finally, it was over. Doctors had removed part of Anastacia's left breast and two lymph nodes, doing reconstructive surgery at the same time. Anastacia went home to wait.

The removal of two lymph nodes indicated that the cancer might have spread throughout her system, but it would be days before she would know for sure. Anastacia was in pain and sick from the intense medication.

"I was not prepared for all the pain," she said. "I was really not prepared for all the pain. … I just couldn't believe that it was that painful where if I tried to sit up, I was gonna pass out."

Initially, Anastacia couldn't bring herself to look at her breasts. "I don't wanna look at my breasts, so I have no idea what I look like. So until I can see myself maybe it'll hit me. I just don't think I have the courage to look yet," she said.

Using Her Fame to Help Other Women

Because she is so young, Anastacia might not have had a mammogram for several years. Feeling that her cancer would never have been discovered without one, she is now taking on insurance companies. Insurers generally don't pay for mammograms for women under 40, since breast cancer is rare in that age group.

"It's unfortunate but until we lobby against our insurance companies and try to make them lower the bar to 30 or 35, we are gonna have a lot of women that have a lot more serious cancers than I have," she said.

Dr. Edelstein, the radiologist who performed her mammogram, also thinks insurers should pay for them.

Anastacia said she never felt bitter about her diagnosis. "I never got angry. I completely knew exactly the reason why. I knew exactly why I was chosen," she said.

Anastacia feels she was "chosen" to face breast cancer, because she's in a position that allows her to help others. "I'm a singer who touches millions of people and my words and my knowledge of what I'm learning from cancer can help millions. And if I can help millions, even if I help one person, that's one person more than none," she said.

Back on Top — and in Love

In her case, Anastacia's almost accidental mammogram had saved her life. Four days after the surgery, the doctor called with the final biopsy results — the cancer had not spread.

Within a month of her surgery, the feisty young singer was virtually unstoppable, back out hitting the circuit in Los Angeles, even singing at a post-Oscar party with close friend Elton John.

Even as she grew stronger, Anastacia, like so many other breast cancer survivors, was struggling with her self-image. Feeling undesirable, she had decided to give up on love. Then she met a special man.

"And I was like, God, life is really just pushing me to that single door, isn't it?" she said. The surgery, she said, has not hampered her love life.

Once again, this feisty singer was embracing life. Now she is determined to help other young women, bringing the same force of nature to that cause that she's brought to everything else.

"I would say to anyone suffering from cancer, keep on pushing because it's not something to be ashamed about. The sooner you catch this disease you're smiling like me. And I saved my life, my doctor saved my life."

"That's me. Survivor Chick."

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