Melissa Etheridge's Battle with Cancer

10/21/2004 at 12:00 PM EDT

Melissa Etheridge's Battle with Cancer
Neal Preston/Retna

Melissa Etheridge

With a history of breast cancer in her family, Melissa Etheridge has always been vigilant about regular self-exams and mammograms. "The rule is, 10 years before you hit the age your mother was at the time of her diagnosis, you should start getting a baseline mammogram," says her pal Rosie O'Donnell. "Melissa was very up on that." Even so, Etheridge, 43, was stunned when she learned the first week in October that she had breast cancer. "Wow," she wrote on her Web site, "I didn't see this coming."

The two-time Grammy winner checked into an L.A. hospital Oct. 9. But first, at O'Donnell's urging, she consulted by phone with Dr. Susan Love, one of the country's preeminent breast cancer experts. "The biggest question in her mind was whether there would be an advantage to doing a mastectomy or not," says Love. "That comes up for most women. You feel like if you do something more drastic, it will work better." But, Love cautions, even a mastectomy doesn't remove all the breast tissue, which means that recurrence is still possible. Instead Etheridge opted for a lumpectomy. Because cancer was found in her sentinel lymph node during the surgery, other lymph nodes were removed as well. Six days later, from home, she updated fans: "The good news is they took out the tumor and a few lymph nodes, only one of which was positive. . . . After that my margins are clean! I still have both of my breasts and whether I will keep them is a bridge I have to cross later."

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