“IT actually blew my mind when I found out, which of course isn’t surprising as there’s not much else you can do when you’re diagnosed with cancer. It just stopped me… and I thought to myself ‘woah, woah, hang on a minute. I don’t have time for cancer’.”

It would not come as a surprise to any fan of rock legend Melissa Etheridge that she has guts. Since breaking out onto the music scene in 1988 with her eponymous debut album, the Kansas native has become known for a “live and let die” attitude that not even cancer could stop.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, one of the world’s most visible lesbian musicians found that along with chemotherapy, putting her non-stop career on hold was an incredibly trying time.

“Unsurprisingly I have been a pretty busy person for most of my life with my career and all, doing my thing moving and shaking,” Etheridge told the Star Observer.

“I had to take a whole new outlook on my life and not being able to do anything for three months during chemo, along with the treatment itself it was just terrible.

“The whole experience has stressed to me, however, the importance of nutrition and that it’s literally a matter of life or death.

“I’m 11 years cancer-free and I’m happier and healthier than I’ve ever been. Having cancer just instantly showed me what I needed to do to take care of myself and how important diet is and how harmful stress is, along with my priorities in life. Happiness and joy are my primary goals now.”

The singer, who has just returned home from a trip to New Zealand, is set to head back to Australia for a series of concerts along the east coast, including one night at Byron Bay’s Bluesfest.

Etheridge believes her Australian and Kiwi fans helped make her into the global success she has been 27 years after her first single Bring Me Some Water.

“[Australia] is just amazing,” she said.

“It’s amazing to see how much you’ve grown over the time that I’ve been coming down and it’s also been fascinating to see your politics, experience your ecology… you’re such an important country.”

Screen shot 2016-03-07 at 6.24.16 PM

A high-profile campaigner for marriage equality during its years of debate in the US, Etheridge said she was not “disappointed” with Australia’s inability to follow much of the western world down that path just yet.

“I feel you all are so close to it and can now look around the world and say, ‘oh come on, this is getting ridiculous’,” she said.

“It is not a question of religion and religious rights, it’s a question of discrimination.

“This whole issue is about making all Australians safe and feeling supported and it just takes a while. It has nothing to do with being behind other countries because every country is different.

“You will get there, preferably sooner rather than later, but you will.”

Etheridge’s efforts drew much attention during the time of Prop 8 in California, the bill that banned same-sex marriage in the state shortly after it was initially enacted and right up until the US Supreme Court struck it down in June 2015. Before the court’s historic decision, the singer challenged the idea of paying state taxes if she and her partner were going to be treated differently.

“The truth is that I said ‘maybe; I shouldn’t pay my taxes. The Internal Revenue Service doesn’t care if I’m gay or straight and wouldn’t think twice about coming to get me,” Etheridge joked.

“The point I was trying to make was that I am tax-paying citizen, that actually pays a lot in taxes, and it was just unfair is it that I, along with anyone giving the government money, don’t have access to full civil rights that my fellow Americans do.

“I was just devastated that Prop 8 passed in California and equally as happy when the Supreme Court made their decision last year.”

Melissa Etheridge

In Australia, there have been instances of same-sex couples choosing not to register their relationship for official purposes, such as a de facto status, due to the inherent belief they would pay the same amount of tax as a married heterosexual couple. As someone who flirted with an act of civil disobedience over the issue of same-sex marriage, Etheridge gives it her seal of approval.

“Those are the things that make a difference. Those are the things that matter. Couples that stand strong in their relationship and show the community and those around them that you are contributing members of society are helping to make a difference, that’s what works,” she said.

“Continuing to be out of the closet and be visible, that’s the most important thing. Letting the country know that these laws are discriminatory and impacting on real people is key.

“Supporting lobby groups and political parties is vital as well but organising, being visible in your communities, being out, those are the things that will make it work.”

Etheridge, a mother of two from a previous relationship, also has the authority to face criticisms same-sex parents often are confronted with.

“I believe a child benefits from having two parents, period. Two loving, caring parents, I agree with at least that side of the debate,” she said.

“Whether one of them has to be male or female, I don’t agree. At all.

“I agree that our social systems and how we function in the world are so that children get so much from experiencing that world, and that includes all the relationships that they have around them.

“The gender roles that have always been so clearly outlined are no longer relevant and this is a great thing. There is a balance happening.

“The thought that a child needs a mother and a father to raise them is an outdated thought. I can tell you personally they just need love.”

Melissa Etheridge tour dates

> Wed, March 23-24: Enmore Theatre, Sydney
> Sat, March 26: QPAC, Brisbane
> Sun, March 27: Byron Bay Bluesfest
> Wed, March 30: Palais Theatre, Melbourne
> Fri, April 1: Riverside Theatre, Perth
Tickets and details: www.melissaetheridge.com/tour


**This article was first published in the March edition of the Star Observer, which is available now. Click here to find out where you can grab a copy in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

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