10/14/2005 at 01:45 PM EDT
Saying that she is now cancer free "in every detectable way, and in every knowing way … in my heart and my mind," Melissa Etheridge is also now admitting she used medicinal marijuana to help with the side effects of chemotherapy during her treatment for breast cancer.
"Instead of taking five or six of the prescriptions, I decided to go a natural route and smoke marijuana" the singer 44, who was first diagnosed more than a year ago, says in an interview to air Sunday on Dateline NBC.
According to excerpts from the interview that appear on the Dateline Web site and from quotes released to the Associated Press, by last January Etheridge had finished the first four rounds of chemo and had graduated to another drug, Taxol, which produced complications.
"It affected my muscles and bones," says the singer whose new greatest hits album includes the song "I Run for Life" dedicated to the fighting breast cancer. "And there's a chance of neuropathy with Taxol, which is where you lose feeling in your extremities. You know, fingers and toes."
She said that as soon as the sensation left her fingertips a red flag arose "and (I) went, 'wait wait wait wait wait.' This is my livelihood you're talking about."
After consulting with her physicians, Etheridge decided to halt the Taxol after having already undergone surgery, two months of chemo (which she describes as "hell") and radiation treatments, which she's still having.
As for using marijuana, Etheridge said when she informed her doctors that she smoked it every day for her pain – and "the minute I didn't feel it, I stopped" – "Every single one was, 'Oh, yeah. That's the best help for the effects of chemotherapy.'"
While against federal law, the use of marijuana with a doctor's recommendation is legal in California and nine other states. Asked if she feared federal prosecution, Etheridge replied, "No, I didn't worry. But it was worth it."