Catching Up With Sheryl Crow
Sheryl Crow doesn't consider herself an "A" list celebrity. I laugh -- to myself, because I'm not going to stop the interview to debate her on where she ranks in the often ridiculous, but very real, pantheon of stars. I mean, it's not my place to chuckle dismissively and remind her that in addition to winning multiple Grammys, she dated Lance Armstrong or that she's BFF with Jennifer Aniston or that she is revered by some (and reviled by others) for taking Karl Rove to task at the 2007 White House Correspondents Dinner.
We're talking about something much more important, anyway: cancer. Crow herself is a breast cancer survivor and now that she's beaten it, she's a vocal advocate of prevention, research and helping those diagnosed with the disease cope with treatment and recovery. So that's how I found myself sipping my Saturday morning coffee while chatting on the phone with Crow, who was busy getting the word out about her Sunday night performance in Baltimore on behalf of the Ulman Cancer Fund, an organization that provides support to young people diagnosed with cancer.
"It's a great place to connect with other young adults who have been diagnosed, what new information is out there and how to live as a survivor of cancer," says Crow.
Crow is a big believer in becoming an expert on your own cancer, in order to understand the treatment options and make the best decisions about things like using holistic medicine to bolster conventional treatments.
"Doug's foundation... has a lot of resources for people overwhelmed by the process," said Crow. "We spend so much time 'in the process' as opposed to being able to get the answers quickly and know what direction we should be going in."
We talked about the recent public outing of Patrick Swayze's pancreatic cancer diagnosis and Crow talked about the stress of not only being sick, but simultaneously having to fend off an increasingly invasive tabloid news landscape.
"For me the thing that was disheartening was... that at that time in my life when things could not have been worse I couldn't leave my house."
Much more after the jump: Read on for the full interview and Sheryl's take on the presidential race, her '07 run in with former White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, her 10-month-old son Wyatt and her new album, "Detours."
Liz: Tell me a little bit about the Ulman Cancer Fund. I know you're going to be performing in Baltimore, but how'd you get involved?
Sheryl: Doug Ulman, who himself was diagnosed with cancer at a young age, was really my resource guy and one of the key figures at the Lance Armstrong Foundation and was my resource guy. Whenever I had people call me saying "I've been diagnosed, what do I do? Who do I reach out to?" I would call Doug and say "My assistant's mom has just been diagnosed with cancer." And Doug always seemed to have all the answers and is really dialed in to the cancer community.
One day I called him and said "Hey, I'm making that call again but this time it's me." And he was really my advocate through my cancer experience. He helped me to get a second opinion with one of the best doctors at UCLA and was there to answer questions and help me navigate through the system. Things as simple as helping me make sure I got copies of all my medical reports and all my MRIs and just simple things I wouldn't know to walk away with because of the overwhelmingness of the whole process.
So the foundation that he runs is super important because a lot of people don't address what it's like to be a survivor having had cancer at a very young age. There are a lot of young people surviving after having had extreme cancer treatments and he just has an incredible resource for young cancer patients and their families. And we're gonna do this event tomorrow night and raise a lot of money and awareness for his foundation.
Liz: Does the foundation concentrate on helping out young people going through cancer or after they've gone through the illness and come out the other end and are trying to put their lives back together?
Sheryl: It's both. It's a great resource for young adults. Their mission is to enhance lives by supporting, educating and connecting young adults and their loved ones touched by cancer. And it's a great place to connect with other young adults who have been diagnosed, what new information is out there and how to live as a survivor of cancer.
Liz: Having gone through it yourself recently, what is the most important thing you came away with that young people should know? Being young is hard enough, but if you could say one thing to young people diagnosed with cancer, what would it be?
Sheryl: My experience was quite different in that I was 44 and was diagnosed in the earliest stages of breast cancer, so my message to my fan base and people I meet in general is that being diligent about mammograms is tantamount, as well as knowing your family history and the train of your breasts. And just staying on top of it. Until there is a cure for cancer, prevention is our greatest hope.
But with young people it's a different kind of beast in that their bodies are functioning at such a high level. The cellular activity is probably at its height, but as far as the personal experience is concerned I always tell everyone who is diagnosed to become a student and to learn as much about the cancer you have and get second opinions. To be in the process. Be gentle with yourself. Learn how to say "no" -- and to say "yes." To utilize the people around you -- rely on those people who are offering their support. Resist that urge to say "I want to be by myself."
There are a lot of individual lessons to learn from cancer, but one of the major things is to really become a student of cancer as well as learning what other treatments can fortify your medical treatment. Like holistic treatments. There are a lot of things that can be done to bone up your immune system. All of the things I did that were outside the realm of conventional medicine really did a lot to help in the success of my conventional treatment.
And Doug's foundation -- that particular site -- has a lot of resources for people overwhelmed by the process. We spend so much time "in the process" as opposed to being able to get the answers quickly and know what direction we should be going in.
Liz: So do you want to give us an idea of how tomorrow night [we talked on Saturday, prior to the event] will unfold? Will it be an acoustic set or will you have a band?
Sheryl: We're doing a little acoustic set. We're actually doing the "rock band" set, but without the amps and all the volume. Which is always really fun because you always hope when you're writing your music that it'll translate acoustically and we've done this on numerous occasions and I feel like it does transfer on a deeper and more acoustic level, so it's always fun to go out and do this. It's going to be a night of serious fundraising and disseminating information and celebrating the success of this foundation and what it stands for. That's what we're there to do, is celebrate.
Liz: Patrick Swayze was recently diagnosed with cancer. Have you been following that story at all?
Sheryl: I have in so much as it's been covered in the news. Not the tabloids. All I know is the press release. My heart goes out to him and I'll keep him in my thoughts and prayers. It's difficult when anyone that we know collectively is diagnosed, but every day it's happening to someone we know in our lives. So we send our utmost support to those people.
Liz: One thing that came up with washingtonpost.com readers was the way in which we found out about his illness. He was basically outed by a tabloid. Did you encounter any invasiveness from the tabloids when you were ill?
Sheryl: I'll tell you something interesting about my situation. I chose to make the press release I did because of my personal life having been made very public at that moment. There were a lot of correlations being made between my public life and having been diagnosed with breast cancer, so it was my intention to make a statement asking people to respect my privacy and let me go through my treatment and take care of my health in private and at some point I would either address -- or not -- my experience.
For me the thing that was disheartening was -- I've never been an "A" list celebrity, partly by choice and I've enjoyed not having paparazzi outside my house -- that at that time in my life when things could not have been worse I couldn't leave my house. I guess the realization I came to is that we're living at a moment in time when we're rejoicing -- or at least investing -- our interest in that moment. For me to not have been covered when things were incredible, but instead bombarded with paparazzi at the lowest moment -- people wanting to get a picture of what that looks like to be completely down and out -- and that is going to sell magazines was kind of informative and disheartening at the same time.
So I would always say to people that being diagnosed or going through your own personal trauma as a public figure, that some things are sacred and need to be protected and we have an opportunity and a choice not to invest our money or our own personal brain power into magazines that support that culture.
Everything's about supply and demand and if we don't demand it, it won't be supplied. It's not my choice to put people out of work, but there are more honorable occupations than being the guy who runs around with a camera and makes money off of people's unhappiness.
Liz: Does that have anything to do with your living in Nashville?
Sheryl: Well, I moved to Nashville for several reasons, one of which is that I was really craving a more serene life. I also have a 10-month-old and want him to have a normal upbringing and no paparazzi around. But more than that, my whole family lives within a three-hour driving radius. My sister actually lives down the road for me. It was just important to me to have family around to help raise him.
Liz: "Him" being Wyatt, right? How's he doing?
Sheryl: He's fantastic. He took his first steps a couple of days ago at the "Ellen DeGeneres Show." Talk about showbiz. I'm like "Dude, don't be stealing my star." He's great, though. He's very curious. I could tell from a very early age that he's game and I think he's going to be a pretty dialed in little dude.
Liz: Does he travel with you?
Sheryl: He travels with me all the time. I don't spend any nights away from him. He's been to Europe. He's been traveling since he was two months old, so he's acclimated and very non-plussed by the whole thing.
Liz: Since this is D.C. I have to ask you about the Karl Rove incident at last year's White House Correspondents Dinner. Has that sunk in anymore? Karl Rove is no longer part of the Bush administration, so things have changed. But think you'll be invited back this year?
Sheryl: I'm sure if people thought that could happen again, I'm sure they'd invite me. That was a moment when I've never seen so many cell phones taking movies in my life.
It was a very impactful experience. But after reflecting on it, I'm not surprised at all that our one encounter with the administration was as nasty as it was because we all know where this administration has stood on important topics such as the environment. So, yes, that was a very unfortunate moment, but also a very informative one that I have talked about on numerous occasions.
I think Mr. Rove has been very masterful in changing the way our political undercurrents and campaigning have been done in the past few years. The power of insinuation was probably the brainchild of Karl Rove and has had a huge effect on our country. Especially at a moment in time when we as citizens seem to be so bombarded with so much information that we've gone to sleep. We'll believe anything for a minute and we won't investigate it, nor will will we emotionally invest in it. Just like going into this war.
I think there's a great surge of people waking up and demanding better and hopefully there won't be anymore men behind the curtain like we've seen with this administration. And my encounter with him was pretty much in line with exactly who I felt he was and the power that he's had. It's important at this moment in time that we don't allow that sort of thing to go on anymore. No more political ads that are steeped in insinuation about other candidates. And we're seeing it now and it's important that we tap into our own power and demand better for ourselves as far as our government is concerned.
Liz: Are you supporting any one particular candidate in the presidential race?
Sheryl: It's difficult. I feel like if I come out and say who I support it will sway some people and we are at a moment when people need to really invest in their beliefs and information they have and feel is in line with themselves. I will definitely support the Democratic candidate when we have one and for me I think the incredible message is that we have an incredible woman and an incredible black man. And for young people in this country who could even dream about running for the highest political office in this land as a young woman or black man, we're seeing a real possibility of that -- a real, tangible, hopeful possibility of that.
But as far as a political candidate -- it is my strongest desire that we remove special interests from government. I don't know that I've ever seen it be at such a heightened state and I believe it's the highest form of fascism. If our government is being run by the people, for the people then we are definitely being fooled by the fact that so much -- if not all -- of our legislation is dictated by the amount of money that passes hands in Washington. And until I see or hear from a political candidate that that is their platform, I don't believe we'll be seeing any changes.
Liz: Let's change gears quickly and talk about your new album, "Detours," that came out in February.
Sheryl: The only thing that I would say about it is that, thematically, it's pretty much consistent of the idea that in your life -- your personal life or as a nation -- you know the course that you're meant to be on and sometimes you find yourself way off your course. And it's being off course that really lead you back to redefining or remembering who you are. So there are lots of songs on the record that are very personal as well as about what's happened to us collectively as a nation.
| March 17, 2008; 10:42 AM ET
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