Strictly made me feel like a woman agaın

Singer Anasta­cia’s dou­ble mas­tec­tomy saved her life, but left her with ‘a road map’ of scars. Here she tells how she came to terms with it. By Kathryn Knight

Daily Mail Weekend Magazine - - NEWS -

The Amer­i­can singer­song­writer Anasta­cia has never been a shy and re­tir­ing type, so it’s lit­tle won­der that when it comes to sum­ming her­self up she goes for a colour­ful la­bel. ‘I con­sider my­self the Liz Tay­lor of mu­sic,’ she says with a hearty guf­faw.

Not, you un­der­stand, be­cause like the late movie star she’s amassed a large col­lec­tion of ex­hus­bands or jaw-drop­ping jew­ellery. In­stead her affin­ity de­rives from some­thing al­to­gether less de­sir­able. As she puts it, ‘She and I have had a lot of diseases be­tween us – but we’ve made them look very glam­orous.’

No one could ar­gue much with her on ei­ther front: di­ag­nosed as a teenager with Crohn’s disease, a long-term con­di­tion that causes in­flam­ma­tion of the di­ges­tive sys­tem and which re­quired part of her in­tes­tine to be re­moved, Anasta­cia has twice bat­tled breast can­cer and three years ago un­der­went a dou­ble mas­tec­tomy which has left her, in her own words, with a ‘road map’ of scars.

Then there’s her SVT, or supraven­tric­u­lar tachy­car­dia, a heart con­di­tion that causes Anasta­cia’s heart to beat three times faster than nor­mal and for which, she re­veals here for the first time, she un­der­went surgery last year. ‘I’ll prob­a­bly go into de­tail about it at some point but for now I can just say, hey, all that aside, I’m in pretty good nick,’ she laughs.

The irony is that she looks it: tanned, trim and tiny – she stands at just 5ft 2in – Anasta­cia ra­di­ates Cal­i­for­nia girl well­be­ing. ‘That can be the frus­trat­ing part of be­ing ill some­times,’ she says. ‘Like with my Crohn’s, when I have a big flare-up I get very slim and then peo­ple tell me I look great, but that’s be­cause I’ve not been able to eat prop­erly for weeks. That’s life for you, isn’t it?’

She’s cer­tainly in good spir­its to­day, par tly be­cause she’s revving up for a UK tour this spring. As the ti­tle sug­gests, the Ul­ti­mate Col­lec­tion Tour sees her belt­ing out her great­est hits such as Sick And Tired, Left Out­side Alone and I’m Outta Love. To keep things fresh, how­ever, she’s also launched her own Anasta­cia app, which al­lows her fans to vote for one of three songs that aren’t on the track list. ‘We know it’ll be one of three each night, but we don’t know un­til we’re on stage which has won,’ she says. ‘So it’s fun.’ This leg is the sec­ond half of a tour the singer started last year be­fore tak­ing a break and throw­ing her­self into the se­quined glit­ter­ball world of Strictly. Sign­ing up for the show was meant to take Anasta­cia out of her com­fort zone, as well as high­light the work of Can­cer Re­search UK, to whom she do­nated her fee. In the event it did both ex­tremely ef­fec­tively, al­though not for the rea­sons Anasta­cia an­tic­i­pated: at one point she had to with­draw from per­form­ing in the dance-off with her part­ner Bren­dan Cole after fears she’d torn her mas­tec­tomy scars.

She went on to sur­vive a cou­ple more weeks be­fore be­ing voted off at the end of Oc­to­ber, but some dis­grun- tled view­ers said it was un­fair that she’d ef­fec­tively bought her­self more time in the con­test and forced an­other con­tes­tant out of the show. To­day she’s san­guine about it, em­pha­sis­ing she gen­uinely had no choice. ‘I thought it was a sore mus­cle and I just waited for it to pass but it got pro­gres­sively worse. And then I felt a lump which I knew couldn’t be can­cer be­cause I didn’t have any breast tis­sue left,’ she ex­plains.

‘The irony is that Strictly came along at a per­fect time and I thought it would be a beau­ti­ful way to raise aware­ness about breast can­cer – but I didn’t know I would in­jure the very part of my body I’d been ter­ri­fied to lose, and which was the rea­son why I was do­ing the show. So I guess I couldn’t have planned it bet­ter,’ she smiles.

And work­ing with Bren­dan was a boon too, she says. ‘We laughed a lot – he has a great sense of hu­mour and I homed in on that be­cause I just love to laugh. It wasn’t easy for him to deal with my health sit­u­a­tion, though iron­i­cally he went through one him­self when he was rushed to hospi­tal with a lung in­fec­tion. So I said to him, “Step­ping into my shoes, are you?”’

Tak­ing part in the show had also been Anasta­cia’s way of re­claim­ing her fem­i­nine side after her surg­eries – a lumpec­tomy in 2003 fol­lowed by a dou­ble mas­tec­tomy ten years later – as well as push­ing her new ‘re­built’ body. She had to have mus­cle taken from other parts of her body to have her breasts re­con­structed. ‘It’s not as easy to use my up­per body as some­body who’s built nor­mally,’ she says. ‘My back mus­cles were re­moved and placed un­der­neath my arms and on top of my im­plants to re­build my breasts. So I don’t nec­es­sar­ily move the same way. I knew it would be a test.

‘I also have quite big scars on my back and if I’d stayed on the show I would pos­si­bly have re­vealed them in a way that I was com­fort­able with. I felt like this show, be­cause it’s about hair, make-up, clothes – all girly things – would help me find a lit­tle bit of the fe­male I lost along the way and also help other women to know it’s OK. But I was re­ally out of my com­fort zone.’

In the event, she never got to show off her scars on Strictly: she did that shortly after leav­ing the show though, pos­ing naked for a glossy magazine in a bold pho­to­shoot. By then, at least, she knew the mus­cle tear­ing was not as se­ri­ous as ini­tially thought. ‘At first we gen­uinely thought it was in a place where I might lose my re­con­structed breast. In fact it turned out to be “the best worst-case sce­nario” – mean­ing al­though it was painful it would heal.’

She still has to do cer­tain ex­er­cises to help the heal­ing process. ‘I’m still walk­ing my arms up the walls to keep the trans­planted mus­cles sup­ple, and I still feel stress in that area, yet the only way to get past it is to con­tinue. When I first had the op­er­a­tion I had to re­learn how to bend down, how to drive a car... it’s all very dif­fer­ent when you don’t have mus­cles where they used to be.’

Not that she’s com­plain­ing – that

isn’t Anasta­cia’s style. Through­out our chat she jokes about her ‘bionic boo­bies’ and is ut­terly mat­ter-of-fact about what must have been the har­row­ing de­ci­sion to have a dou­ble mas­tec­tomy. ‘I didn’t see it that way,’ she in­sists. ‘When I was di­ag­nosed the sec­ond time I could have had an­other lumpec­tomy, but I would have had to have chemo and ra­di­a­tion and go on medicine for the rest of my life. That choice didn’t sound ex­cit­ing even to keep my real boobs. Once I’d had the mas­tec­tomy they told me, “Ev­ery­thing’s clean, you will never have breast can­cer again.”

That was worth ev­ery­thing.’

Anasta­cia has never let her health is­sues stand in her way. After grow­ing up with her brother Brian and sis­ter Shawn in Chicago and New York, she be­gan her ca­reer danc­ing in pop videos be­fore find­ing work as a back­ing vo­cal­ist. She got her first record­ing deal at the age of 30 after tak­ing part in the now-de­funct MTV tal­ent show The Cut and reach­ing the fi­nal.

Her de­but al­bum Not That Kind, re­leased in 2000, went plat­inum four times over and saw her crowned the world’s best­selling new fe­male pop artist at the 2001 World Mu­sic Awards. She went on to fill sta­di­ums round the world, yet be­hind the ballsy songs and her trade­mark tummy- bar­ing crop tops lay a mound of in­se­cu­ri­ties. ‘I never thought I was pretty enough. I wasn’t tall, I wasn’t thin, I was very curvy and mus­cu­lar,’ she says. ‘So ev­ery­thing that I wasn’t, I wanted to be.’

This self-doubt went on well into her thir­ties, the decade in which she found in­ter­na­tional suc­cess, al­though the past ten years in par­tic­u­lar have proved par­tic­u­larly tu­mul­tuous: dif­fi­cult health is­sues aside, Anasta­cia also parted com­pany with her record la­bel, as well as get­ting di­vorced in 2010 after a short-lived three-year mar­riage to her English body­guard Wayne New­ton. ‘The irony is that in 2006 and 2007 my ca­reer was at its peak but it was a con­fus­ing time. I def­i­nitely didn’t have a sense of self. But I’ve started to em­brace me and take me as what I am.’

The di­vorce, in par­tic­u­lar, brought with it the recog­ni­tion that her suc­cess came at the ex­pense of her per­sonal life. ‘But I don’t re­sent it at all, I don’t har­bour any what ifs,’ she in­sists now.

‘This was my choice and I know it

was right.’ What if Mr Amaz­ing

pitched up though? ‘I’d be open to it,

but Mr Amaz­ing has to un­der­stand that Mrs Amaz­ing has her life too. Do our lives work with each other’s? If they do, great. If not, it won’t work.’ When it comes to chil­dren she’s also drawn a line, de­spite say­ing as re­cently as two years ago that she hadn’t ruled out look­ing into sur­ro­gacy or adop­tion as a way of hav­ing a fam­ily of her own. ‘Look, I’m go­ing to be 50 in a cou­ple of years. I’ve got 700 things wrong with me: re­ally I’m not hav­ing a child now. So if I met Mr Amaz­ing he needs to have had his kids,’ she says. ‘I have to be mind­ful about what a child de­serves and I can’t guar­an­tee I’ll be the health­i­est mum in the world.’ As for the big 5-0, it turns out that doesn’t scare her. ‘Bring it on,’ she in­sists. ‘I’ve a lot of self-love and self­knowl­edge these days. And wis­dom. I heard that word all the time when I was young – with age comes wis­dom – and I thought it was gross. No one wants to think about wis­dom when they’re young. But you don’t re­alise how peace­ful it can feel to not be chas­ing your tail any more. So I’m not out there with a crop-top on any more – not that I look aw­ful in one – but there’s a time and a place.’ Never a hell­raiser, she takes even bet­ter care of her­self these days: when she’s away from her LA home she’s ac­com­pa­nied by her sis­ter Shawn, who cooks for her. She’s also given up booze since hav­ing her mas­tec­tomy. ‘I think I have to pick and choose the drug that’s go­ing in my body now, and so I de­cided to just not choose al­co­hol. It’s very easy to have a glass of wine to re­lax, but it’s bet­ter for me not to.’ Make no mis­take though, Anasta­cia is no killjoy. She loves Bri­tish pubs and re­veals that she’s ‘down the pub’ here quite of­ten. Se­ri­ously? ‘Hon­estly, I don’t drink but I like to go with friends,’ she says. ‘I love Bri­tish pubs.’ In fact, if it wasn’t for our pesky weather she might even con­sider bas­ing her­self here some of the year. ‘My sis­ter and I got side­tracked by the hot spell that you had for a minute last year. We were like, “This is amaz­ing, we need to buy a flat in Eng­land.” But then we thought, “OK, slow down, it’s Lon­don. At some point it’s go­ing to turn into rain.” So it didn’t hap­pen.’ Still, never say never. ‘Oh ab­so­lutely,’ she winks. ‘You never know.’ Anasta­cia’s tour be­gins in May. For tick­ets visit live­na­tion.co.uk. Her live al­bum, A 4 App, is avail­able at pledge­mu­sic. com/ projects/ anasta­cia-new- al­bum.

Anasta­cia re­veal­ing her scars

On Strictly with Bren­dan Cole

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