The rock star sings for fellow breast cancer survivors – and talks about raising health-conscious kids
Credit: Diane Bondareff for Hard Rock International

Melissa Etheridge had one request to fans before her recent concert. “No stage rushing!” she said.

She wasn’t being a diva – just playing it safe. After all, she was singing on a Delta airplane 10,000 feet in the air. Her performance – to help raise money for The Breast Cancer Research Foundation – was part of Hard Rock’s PINKTOBER initiative and a cause dear to the singer. She’s now cancer free after being diagnosed with breast cancer in October of 2004.

“My health is better now than it’s ever been,” Etheridge, 48, told PEOPLE mid-flight. “Cancer woke me up. It was a symptom of a body that needed attention.”

Now Etheridge says she pays closer attention to the food she puts in her mouth – and keeps all stress at a minimum. “I’m a different person now,” she says, even when it comes to parenting her four kids – Bailey, 12, Beckett, 10 and twins Miller Steven and Johnnie Rose, 3. “The quality of life – the moment, the right now – is more important than whether they know a certain rule.”

Of course, that attitude doesn’t mean the kids run completely wild. “They understand health and what food does to your body,” she says. “They’re going to eat sugar because they’re kids but when they can’t fall asleep. I say, ‘That’s because you ate chocolate at 6 p.m. I’m sorry but you have to lay here and stare at the ceiling and know you can’t eat chocolate after 2 p.m.’ These are the things they learn.”

Now Etheridge hopes to teach others outside her home as well. “My personal goal is to get women to understand that health is our responsibility. There is not a pill or drug at the end that’s going to fix you. You are responsible,” she says.