Despite — or because of — Sheryl Crow’s massive success across multiple music genres — pop, rock (who can forget her “Picture” duet with Kid Rock?), folk, and country — she was able to hit pause on her career during her battle with breast cancer and “redefine her life.” Shortly after being diagnosed, Crow bought a farm in Nashville, Tenn., adopted two young boys, and has slowed down her day-to-day, leaving touring and performing for being a women’s health advocate and motherhood. As part of the 54-year-old powerhouse’s mission to encourage annual mammograms, she recently made her way to Los Angeles to attend the BlogHer Conference, where she shared her personal story with a young female audience. Prior to her Q&A, Crow sat down with a handful of journalists to discuss how overcoming her health issues reshaped her perspectives, why her boys have never watched the news, and why she is the least tech-friendly person around.
Surviving breast cancer has completely changed her priorities
My diagnosis was a real game-changer. I was 44, and I was the picture of great health. I wasn’t a bad eater, I just wasn’t very conscientious about what’s in food that can be wellness-boosting. I’ve had a lot of people say, “Yeah, these things help you to redefine your life,” but for me, I really refined my life. I began to really hack away at the things that were not important anymore and the things that were energy-sucking, and learning how to say no. Women come in with this idea that we bear our children, we nurse them, we nurture them, and yet, we’re the last ones we nurture. My big lesson was to quit taking care of everyone. I was at the bottom of my totem pole and it caught up to me. And I believe that was really my relationship to the metaphysical aspect of cancer.
Cancer inspired Crow to adopt her children
It redirected the story I was telling myself — that story that when you’re raised by two parents in a loving home, that that’s what life is going to look like. And when I finished breast cancer treatment and I was about a year out, I asked, “What’s missing? Maybe there’s another way there.” And so I started the adoption process. You can’t just write your story and live by it if there are things that you want that are outside of that story, because it could be so confining. So I said, “I’m going to start the process and we’ll see what happens.” I have these great two boys. They roll with it. It’s just been an amazing journey.
Her kids have never seen the news
We’re all watching how our lives are unfolding with technology and the presence of all-consuming 24–hour-a-day news, constantly being bombarded with negativity and with stressful situations. My kids have never seen the news. If it’s on in the house, I make sure that they’re not in the room. I’m like O.J. Simpson in the commercial hurtling luggage. If they want to turn on the TV to watch Cartoon Network, I make sure to get to the remote before they do because it’s just too much. There’s too much of everything.
In fact, her kids don’t have much screen time at all
It’s the quieting of our brains that allows us to understand what our true messaging is. I want them to grow up with that. Somebody asked me about our summer. We have had the best summer. My kids have been so bored, and boredom is the best thing for children. That is where they find their imaginations and their ability to create games and to find things to do. Or not. Or to be bored and to just be in the passing of time. We can safely say our summer has not flown by. It’s been the best ever. We’ve done fun things, and we’ve done nothing. We’ve just been together, and we’ve done nothing together. That’s what I grew up with.
Her one piece of advice for new parents
Kids are amazing. When they get old enough to give you their opinion, they will tell you. “Mommy, put your phone down!” There’s something really beautiful about being present for your kids. And there are times where you’re a parent, you do want to escape. On more than on occasion, I have told my kids, “I’m going to put myself in a time-out right now. Mommy needs a time-out.” “But why?” “Because Mommy just needs a time-out. I’m going to be right here. I’m going to be back in one minute. I’m not leaving.” There are times you just want to go get on your computer and read about who is shagging who. But you make yourself unavailable and you miss out on the little moments in your kids’ lives. So that is one thing I’d tell parents: Put your phones away. Your kids will remember you being on the phone.
Her advice for her younger self
I would tell my younger self to be selfish about my life and not be so hard on myself. The other thing I would say is that love is not attached to achievement. Love isn’t something you earn. You come in being worthy of love, no matter who you are or who you were born to. That’s a lesson we have to learn over and over and over.
Her health advice for millennials
I see all kinds of kids who are getting their periods when they are, like, 10 or 11, which I believe affects the rate of breast cancer earlier in younger people. There are lots of things in our foods that weren’t there when I was growing up — preservatives, all the things that make things handy and immediate and make things last longer are bad for us. And they replicate themselves in different ways. There are different things that replicate themselves as estrogen and I am estrogen positive. So I try to stay away from certain things like phthalates that are in water bottles, the hormones that are in our chicken or in our food in general, the food coloring that’s in our meats … Most of our meat comes from Japan and it’s not fresh, it’s been food colored. Most of the fish that you eat, even the sushi, even in good restaurants, is not sushi. There has been an amazing study that has come out recently that all the high-end sushi that we think we’re getting, unless you’re eating at Nobu or Matsuhisa, it’s not what you think you are eating. So you can’t really trust what you are buying in the grocery store. But what you can do is you can eat in season. You can eat organically. Farmers’ markets are great places because it is straight from the field to your table. Things that are out of season have generally been shot with different things to keep them ripe for longer periods of time or to ripen them when they need to ripen. It’s so much healthier to eat colorful. If it’s a purple potato, it’s going to have more nutrients than a white potato.
Her determination to keep her kids healthy
It’s hard for kids. Kraft macaroni and cheese is like the funnest food that ever happened. And we are one of the only countries that would allow those chemicals to color our food like that. We have 1,500 different carcinogenic additives, food colorings that are allowed in this country that aren’t allowed in other countries. Kraft finally [changed their U.S. mac and cheese formula]. I tweeted recently, “Thank you Kraft for finally making the kind of mac and cheese here that you make in every other country” and they sent me a massive box. So we’ve had a lot of it lately. There are just creative ways to make food taste good and interesting that are better for our bodies. Because we don’t even know at this point for this generation of kids who are coming up eating what they are eating, what their lifespans are going to look like, and what their health is going to look like. I’m an older mom. I may not be around when my kids are in their 50s or 60s, but I don’t want to see them in their 30s or 40s fighting cancer because I didn’t feed them right or because they were subjected or even introduced to foods or environmental things that were dangerous to them.
How she combats stress
I am not going to get sick again [knocks on wood]. I would not have said that I was a good candidate for cancer to begin with. I do believe that a healthier life comes from a life that is less stressful. There is a lot of stress in our lives in general — divorces, deaths in the family, paying our rents, not having jobs. But to invite in other added stresses is just meaningless and ridiculous. I find that having the TV on all the time, having a phone attached to me with emails and texts and social media and all that stuff, is a distraction and it creates a kind of stress that we are completely oblivious to. We get in elevators and we don’t even acknowledge mankind anymore. We go to rock concerts — usually you go see somebody play and part of the fun was having this collective energy. We’re so isolated now that we don’t have a sense of what it means to be moved molecularly, which is what art does and music does. Inspiration, that’s what it is, and it changes the shape of our cells. There have been so many studies on that. I feel like alleviating stress, taking all the needless distractions away, meditating is a big one — not necessarily getting into TM but just sitting quietly and trying to quiet your brain, even for 10 minutes a day. It is valuable for people to sit and be able to quiet their minds and take away some of the messaging that is just constant that creates these stories that we tell about ourselves.
She’s taking time off to focus on family life
I have two boys, Wyatt and Levi. They’re 9 and 6. I announced last year that I wouldn’t be touring anymore, and both of them were just aghast. They were like, “We’re not going on the road anymore?” They love the tour bus. But it’s been a great year. I’ve gotten to be home. We’ve had a very normal life. They spent every waking hour outside. We have tons of animals. They have geckos, they have fish, they’re dying for a snake, which I said they could totally have when they got to be 18 and live in their own places. They’re really into fishing right now. They are curious and they are good boys. And Nashville is a fantastic place to raise kids, particularly if you’re single. It’s a great home life.