Words: Miles Holder
Before we begin, I need to break FAULT’s usual editorial style guide and explain the background behind our reversible cover feature for FAULT Issue 24. It’s important to me that our readers understand Anastacia’s head space throughout our interview so that you can understand just how Anastacia is able to make light of times which read like her darkest of days.
As a musician, Anastacia is known for being the powerhouse vocalist who stormed the charts in the early 2000s with hit tracks ‘I’m Outta Love’, ‘One Day in Your Life’ and ‘Left Outside Alone’, all of which now are defining pop anthems of the decade. Despite breaking away from Sony Records (a decision Anastacia admits wasn’t the best idea for the time), Anastacia went on to release 6 studio albums, tour endlessly and sell 52 million records worldwide.
Behind the music, Anastacia has been gripped in an internal battle against illness and self-acceptance her whole life. Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age 13 and fighting two bouts of breast cancer, the second of which ended with a Double Mastectomy in 2013, Anastacia’s has been on a mission to regain the femininity stolen by the disease.
Arriving at our interview, Anastacia greeted me wide eyed and with a tender embrace; while I wish I could say she was just excited to see me, it’s clear that after years of hiding her scars and parts of her story from the world – it was a godsend for her to finally be able to reveal her story to the world.
It’s been a long fought battle consisting of 10 procedures & 5 Surgeries but Anastacia is ready to reveal her FAULTs to the world.
Here is Anastacia’s story – FAULTs and all.
FAULT: Thanks for being so trusting with FAULT on this shoot. Prior to this, how did you feel about your scarring?
Anastacia: I resented them. I resented how large they are but I also understood why I needed to go through all the physical changes. My scars are part of my journey and a reminder of all the things I went through with my mastectomy. At this point, I feel great to be able to show them in a way that’s artistic with a respected team in fashion because it’s transformed my body’s “FAULTs” into art.
Your scars aren’t in the usual place for a mastectomy, why is that?
The surgeons had to go around my tattoo; the scars really should have been on my bra line but to graft skin, the surgeons needed to find a place that wasn’t compromised. I wasn’t expecting it to be as long but it was the only way.
How does it feel to finally show the stripped back Anastacia?
I’m so nervous to let people see them, I really am, but I want to be able to go on the beach and not have the first photographs taken of my body to be ones that I didn’t give. I want to be free and knowing that this photo-shoot will be out there and available, I can be on the beach and not worry about what people think. After today, paparazzi can take a photo of me breathing in and call it a gut or say all the things they want, that doesn’t scare me – but my scars are a part of me and I want to be the one to reveal them. If paparazzi photographed them before today, I’d feel like I was being shamed but being able to release them this way, I feel extremely empowered.
When you battled cancer, you were fighting an illness that was slowly taking over your body and wrecking havoc on its path. Do you feel like you’ve finally reclaimed it back?
Absolutely! Every little thing that I’m doing, including Strictly Come Dancing, was me trying to reclaim a little piece of my femininity that cancer stole. When you have as many surgeries as I’ve had, you lose so many female sensations that you’ll never get back. Nipple sensation is something that cancer robbed from my anatomy and I’m used to it now but there is that little part of me that will always be lost. Doing Strictly and doing this shoot I feel like I’m finally becoming the woman that I was again.
How long has it taken for you to mentality repair and be ready to share your body with us?
It’s definitely been a long process. I was diagnosed January 2013 and it’s nearly 2017. It took this long but finally when people see this shoot it will be 100% back to me. I’m really grateful that this has been the journey and that you are a part of it – if I was on Strictly long enough I might have done it there but it wasn’t meant to be. Doing a shoot like this, I can be sure that the world sees my scars how I now do – as art.
Talk me through your first moment of discovery back in 2003.
2003, I actually went in to explore breast reduction as a preventative measure and two days before my procedure my doctor asked me to have a mammogram. I remember saying “I’m young, what are you talking about!?” and he replied “I just want to check that your tissue is pristine” and me being me I said,“Pristine, mean, clean that’s who I am when I’m on the scene!” [laughs] It was all jokes, I got my mammogram and lo and behold, they found cancer. I wasn’t so pristine, mean or clean after all…
It was a blessing because they found it so early. I spent so long learning all the information I could from that point on. When doctors ask “Is cancer in your family?”, they’re only guaranteeing that you will get it. If it’s not, it’s still a wide open field and 70% of women who get cancer, it’s not even in their family and most women will get cancer. Everything in the environment, your stress levels, what you eat – it all can be a cause of cancer. There are so many combining factors that will make you a victim which is why I decided to become an advocate for early detection.
Young women need to ask for a mammogram contribution for holiday gifts or birthdays etc. Even just £5 or £10 towards the procedure, anything will help and it’s all an investment in your long-term well-being. If you’re a young woman in your mid-twenties, just get it the test done and you can have peace of mind until you’re thirty years old. In your thirties go every two or three years depending on your doctor’s advice and then after thirty-five, it’s safest to go each year. Find it early and you’re done and it’s so much easier.
Cancer and death needn’t go hand in hand, if you catch it early you can live with it and seek treatment – it’s not spotting it early enough that’s scary.
You’re very vocal and many who have heard your story were able to learn from it and beat cancer due to their proactive detection. How does that make you feel to know you affected a life in such a drastic way?
I’ve heard it so much that I never take back any personal invasion of my privacy because it allowed my story to be told to so many people and saved so many lives.
The first news of your cancer wasn’t revealed on your terms?
The press told people I had cancer before I told people! I found out I had cancer on Friday and on Sunday World News rang to tell me they were releasing the story and if I’d like to make a statement. I didn’t have a press team at the time to do all that for me and I was still coming to terms with my diagnosis. Three days later most of my friends learnt I had cancer from the press. I couldn’t call anybody; I was trying to deal with what I thought at the time was a death sentence.
In saying that I’m not angry and what the press did – I say all the time that I’m grateful to have had cancer because it meant that I was able to save lives and that is worth every minute of surgery I’ve been through. I’m still alive and telling this story is why I’m still here and that’s why I keep talking about because there are a lot of people who don’t have the ability to raise their voice. It’s hard spiritually and mentally to tell people about your experiences and I get that. Not everybody needs to be as open as I am but as long as I’m open I can help someone who is closed get by and that’s how I look at the world that is cancer but I just look at the first three letters, C.A.N.
What physical trait did you hate before scarring and how insignificant does it feel now?
My boobs! [laughs] When I think back to how much I hated them, they ended up saving my life. Had I had smaller breasts I might not have seen anything and then I would have had it and not known and been hit with stage four out of the blue. My friends were telling me not to get them reduced because they were beautiful and people were paying for larger breasts and thank god I didn’t listen to them.
I say I was blessed with cancer and I was blessed with Crohn’s because it allows me to find a positive way to get through it in order to find a way around it. Having Crohn’s has made me a better communicator because to hold it in creates anxiety which makes it worst.
You’ve had bad days, in fact, you’ve had the worst of days. What lifts you back up?
I just wait for it to pass. I think you have to allow yourself to feel like crap, you’re supposed to have those feelings. You need to have emotions and it’s how you process them and how you exist and I think that for me I just tell myself “Anastacia, you’re down today and just be down.” If I have to work, then I push it aside and sometimes I can forget but if I don’t take care of letting it exist then it can come out another way. I’ve made a lot of mindful decision to get me to this place. I’ve had a lot of accomplishments but it’s the setbacks which taught me who I am and what I’m made of.
No, I haven’t accomplished everything I wanted to but it’s how you learn from what you haven’t been able to accomplish that brings success.
Strictly sounds like a lot of work and even more so for someone who has been through the physical changes that you have. How did you cope?
I was and now am in the best condition that I’ve been in, in a long time. I had just finished 50 dates before I started on Strictly and the injury I received wasn’t because I was unfit but because I was trying to do something that was hard for most people let alone me with my Latissimus Dorsi in front of my body! [Laughs] It was a tall order for my dance partner and me to do but I think we were both stubborn in our “we can do this” philosophy.
And then you got injured. What exactly happened?
I just 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 but it had to be something. I went to see a doctor and as it turns out it was an inflamed scar tissue. I found this out on Saturday morning and the show was filmed live on Saturday night.
We decided to continue with the performance, and we took out the lift to help me do that. By the end of the performance, I was in a lot of pain and knew I needed to see a specialist. Then I was told there was a dance off. I knew I was physically unable to perform, and I was terrified about what damage I had already done. I began to cry and said “sorry I’ll get my things and go and thanks for the opportunity” and I was ready to leave…I didn’t know they had contingencies for occurrences like that.
The press wasn’t so understanding at first.
I didn’t have the best time hearing what the press had to say because I couldn’t dance-off but once they found out why it was all “wow, how did you even dance in the first place!?” and I’m all like “Hello, I’m a fighter!” But once I felt that my arm was going to die, I just had to sit it out. I think the press thought I was being a diva and refusing to dance off which was so wrong and it was the best feeling when the truth finally came out.
If you could give any piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
I believe that I would say “be kinder to yourself and not compare yourself to other people.” Back then I never felt I was pretty enough or talented enough. I wore glasses, I wasn’t tall, I didn’t have blue eyes, I didn’t think I was pretty because I compared myself to people who looked nothing like me. I could have picked anything to not like about myself but I wish I’d been gentler and kinder to me and not been so judgemental. It’s strange because my mum always taught me to accept other people for all their differences and I always saw the beauty in others, I just couldn’t see it in myself.
What is your FAULT?
I give to my own detriment. As much as people say giving is a great gift, it’s not when you don’t know when you’re being taken advantage of. I’ve been so giving that I’ve hurt myself so much in the process.