How Sheryl Crow Found Happiness After 'Lowest Moment' When She Battled Cancer Amid Public Breakup

After beating cancer and weathering a high-profile split, the rock star left Hollywood and relocated to Nashville to start a family

Sheryl Crow is in the best place of her life.

“I have had a life of dreams coming true; not without the low-lows, but certainly more than the average high-highs,” the rock star, 57, says in the new issue of PEOPLE.

After more than 30 years in showbiz, the rock star just released her eleventh and final album, Threads, a collection of collaborations with everyone from Keith Richards to Brandi Carlile. To mark the momentous occasion, Crow sat down with PEOPLE to reflect on her legacy — and life in the spotlight.

“I’m like a cat with nine lives,” says Crow. “I’m on my 11th, though.”

For much more on Sheryl Crow, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

Sheryl Crow
Anne Menke

Indeed, the Kennett, Missouri, native gave up her modest but comfortable life as an elementary educator in St. Louis to pursue a music career in Los Angeles in 1986, going from teaching music to touring with Michael Jackson as a backup singer in just two years.

Sheryl Crow
Sheryl Crow. Jim Dyson/Getty

Crow dropped her acclaimed debut album, Tuesday Night Music Club, in 1993. In the years since, she has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide; released a canon of hit singles (see: “All I Wanna Do,” “If It Makes You Happy” and “Soak Up the Sun”); won nine Grammy Awards; and worked with everyone from Stevie Nicks to Prince.

Sheryl Crow
Sheryl Crow (in 1995). Steve Granitz/WireImage

But Crow insists she didn’t feel she truly “made it” until last year, when she played the Bonnaroo music festival.

“Eighty-five thousand young people were singing every word, and I thought, ‘Oh wow, these kids have grown up with their parents playing my music,’” she recalls. “I’m actually a part of the soundtrack to a lot of people’s lives.”

Of course, there have been plenty of low points on her journey.

Sheryl Crow
Sheryl Crow (ca. 1999). The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

In 2006, just weeks after ending her engagement to cyclist Lance Armstrong, the singer announced she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer.

“When I was diagnosed and my relationship fell apart, people were camped outside trying to get that picture of Sheryl Crow at her lowest moment. I just lost all faith in humankind,” says Crow. “But I licked my wounds. I started feeling like, ‘I’m at a point in my life where I need to manifest something more realistic.’”

Sheryl Crow
Sheryl Crow & Lance Armstrong. Chris Polk/FilmMagic

Once in remission, Crow knew it was time for a change, and she moved from L.A. to Nashville and adopted sons Wyatt, now 12, in 2007 and Levi, 9, in 2010.

“Now I have a place to come home to. I feel like everything in your life presents itself as a means of helping you remember who you are. There are so many times along the way that you forget who you are, and that’s when you find yourself the loneliest,” says Crow. “In the last 10 years I have come into contact with the person I was born as before all of this craziness, and I feel more in touch with the small-town girl from Missouri.”

The singer-songwriter has found a community in Tennessee that she never had in Hollywood.

“I remember having a New Year’s Eve party [in L.A.] — there were 700–800 people in my house, and everywhere you looked there was a celebrity. But I never felt like I put down roots there. I was always on the trajectory of my career; it was all business,” she says.

Adds Crow: “Now I drop my kids off in the school drop-off lane, I pick them up after school, and I’m perfectly content. I feel so much more alive and young than I even felt in the 20 years of living in L.A. I love my life. … I was normal before I made it, and I’m pretty normal now.”

The star has found a pitch-perfect balance in her life as a single mom, without sacrificing her music career. For example, as she put together her new album, she employed a “three-night rule,” she says, “where I’m not going to leave longer than three nights unless I take them.” This rule lent itself to allowing Crow to record songs with her heroes — and some young talent, including Maren Morris and Andra Day — for Threads.

Maren Morris Sheryl Crow CMT Music Awards
Maren Morris & Sheryl Crow. Kevin Mazur/Getty

“What a gift, to be able to reach out to people like James Taylor who, when I was 7 years old, I learned every single song from Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon on the piano; and people that inspired me to leave my hometown and go out and pick up an electric guitar, like Bonnie Raitt; and to write songs, like Stevie Nicks; and to go and rock out for 25 – 30 years, like The Rolling Stones,” Crow says.

And while the rocker calls Threads her final album, she isn’t giving up music.

“I don’t see retiring anytime soon,” she says. “Retirement and death are synonymous.”

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