'I Wasn't Ready to Leave My Kids'

updated 09/15/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/15/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

When Sharon Osbourne was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2002, she immediately went into mom mode. "I can't go," she recalls thinking. "My work isn't finished here with my family." Following surgery and chemo, Osbourne, 55, has been cancer-free since May 2004. Now she's a part of Stand Up to Cancer, the Sept. 5 fund-raising special airing live on NBC, ABC, CBS and E! A few days before the event, the America's Got Talent judge spoke to PEOPLE's Rennie Dyball about the fight she waged against the disease, with support from her family—husband Ozzy, 59, son Jack, 22, and daughters Kelly, 23, and Aimee, 25.

Who are you looking forward to seeing at the benefit?
Christina Applegate. I'm going to give her a hug. I think that people's prayers and thoughts really do help.

What was your reaction to your own diagnosis?
The first thing that you think is, it's a death sentence. But when I saw the fear and panic in my children's eyes, it made me go, "This isn't taking me out." I wasn't ready to leave my kids. When you're a mum, that's it. You're a protector.

How did you stay strong?
You can go, "Why me?" Or you fight the cancer and say, "You are gone." You need that mental commitment. I felt like I had an alien in my body—I was like, just get it out.

How did you cope with chemo after the cancer spread to your lymph nodes?
The process is terribly debilitating but it was saving my life, so I embraced it. I have my [chemo] port framed at home and I look at it every morning—it was my lifeline.

Your husband, Ozzy, had a hard time with your illness. How did he help you through?
If it wasn't for my husband I would be dead anyway because he made me get tested. He was on tour during my chemo and he'd fly right home after shows to be with me.

With such a busy schedule [America's Got Talent is in its final rounds, and the family has a variety show coming out next year], how do you stay vigilant about your health?
[My family] puts a lasso on me and they drag me to the doctor!

How has cancer changed you?
I live in the moment. I don't say, "Well, next year" anymore. I do it this year.

For more information, go to www.standup2cancer.org

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