Shania Twain on Performing After Lyme Disease Battle: 'It Would Have Killed Me' to Never Sing Again

The country music icon opened up to PEOPLE about her ordeal at the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women Red Dress Collection fashion show

Shania Twain is back in the saddle after a health battle.

After wrapping her Rock This Country Tour in 2015, the Nashville icon took some time off to focus on family — but she was also silently dealing with vocal cord problems.

“I was on a long sabbatical, and my son [Eja, 18, with ex Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange] was getting older. I love being a full-time mom, but I started thinking, ‘What am I going to do when I have an empty nest?’ I had a problem with my voice; I was avoiding doing something about it,” Twain explains in the new issue of PEOPLE.

“As my son got more independence, I had more time to start focusing on my voice and I put all my energy into that,” Twain, 54, adds.

The Grammy winner then learned that her problems with her voice were caused by Lyme disease.

For more on Shania Twain, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

Shania twain
Jeff Kravitz/Filmmagic

“When I realized that I could barely sing at all anymore, I was like, ‘I’m humiliating myself. I can’t get out there and do this. I have to stop until I figure it out.’ I thought that it was just fatigue or burnout,” she reflects. “But no — Lyme disease commonly affects the nerves. When I discovered a glimpse of hope, I ran with that.”

After seeking medical help, undergoing open-throat surgery and strengthening her vocal cords, Twain returned in 2017 with her fifth album Now — her first in 15 years. In 2018 she hit the road for a triumphant comeback tour, the “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” singer launched her “Let’s Go!” Las Vegas residency at the Zappos Theater last December.

The American Heart Association's Go Red for Women annual Red Dress Collection, New York, USA - 05 Feb 2020
Shania Twain. Patrick Lewis/Starpix/Shutterstock

And Twain proved she’s still got it last week when she performed at the American Heart Association‘s Go Red for Women Red Dress Collection fashion show in New York City.

“Women’s health has become much more of my own priority; you have a lot of realizations as you start getting older,” she says. “Awareness is everything. Heart health is something that a lot of women do take for granted. You would never expect the high rate of women that are affected by heart disease — it is the highest killer of a disease in women, which I would have never guessed.”

Shania twain
Shania Twain in August 2017. Clive Brunskill/Getty

With her own health crisis under control, the singer-songwriter is thrilled to be back in the studio and onstage.

“It would have killed me not to be able to ever sing again,” she says. “I wasn’t going to let my life be over if I wasn’t going to be able to sing again, but I would have been very sad and I would have mourned that forever. But it is a great love of mine and a passion — that’s what got me back on stage again, because I could. Now I have more appreciation for it than ever.”

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