The one lesson I’ve learned from life: Strictly star Anastacia on why illness doesn't have to define you

Anastacia, 48, is a singer/songwriter who has sold over 50 million records worldwide. She has twice been diagnosed with breast cancer and is currently partnering Brendan Cole on Strictly Come Dancing. Single, she lives in Los Angeles. 

Illness doesn’t have to define you

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve had more than my share of illness. At 13, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s, a disease that attacks the bowel. I had to have part of my intestine removed, which left me with a large scar across my stomach.

Anastacia, 48, pictured above, says: 'I think it¿s fair to say that I¿ve had more than my share of illness'

Anastacia, 48, pictured above, says: 'I think it’s fair to say that I’ve had more than my share of illness'

That was tough on a teenager for whom a single spot seemed like the end of the world. But the way I came to deal with it was to regard it as a badge of honour.

Then, out of the blue at 34, I discovered I had cancer in my left breast. I was so shocked. No one in my family has had cancer, although I now know around 70 per cent of all cancers are non-hereditary.

Ironically, it was discovered when I’d gone into hospital for a breast reduction. So that turned out to be a blessing because there had been no signs that anything was wrong. It’s how I turned a negative situation positive: I told myself how lucky I’d been to catch it so early.

On that occasion, I had a lumpectomy and about as much radiation as a human body can take. That seemed to have done the trick but then four years ago, when I went for my regular mammogram, they found a lump in my right breast.

I was told by my doctor that I could have the same procedure I’d had ten years earlier. But I made up my mind to ask for something more radical — an elective double mastectomy — to deal with the problem, I hoped, once and for all.

That was a difficult time, not least because it felt like I was losing part of my femininity. But hardships are what shape a person and I was determined to remain as strong as I could.

The operation involved taking a muscle from my back to use as part of the breast reconstruction. It took a year to recover and even now there are certain moves I can’t make when I’m dancing on Strictly because of the impact it has on my back — as anyone who’s watched me will know!

But I’m loving it. It’s part of my quest to find the inner girl in me that I lost through the mastectomy and to empower other women who are going through the same thing.

For more information about Cancer Research UK's work on beating breast cancer and to make a donation, visit: 

Interview by Richard Barber

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