For over 20 years, legendary soul singer Candi Staton has been singing her number two U.K. hit “You Got The Love” on stages all over the world. But it wasn’t until Staton, 79, was enduring 10 weeks of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation while waging a year-long battle against breast cancer that she finally sang the song for herself.
I sang that song more to myself in the last few months than I ever performed it onstage,” Staton said Monday in an exclusive 30-minute interview with Eldredge ATL. “I finally heard the words after all these years. [Reciting] “‘Sometimes, I feel like throwing my hands up in the air. I know I can count on you. Sometimes, I feel like saying, Lord, I just don’t care. But you’ve got the love I need to see me through.’ It was so encouraging to me. I used to perform it just because it was a big hit in the U.K. and to see people enjoying themselves. I never really listened to the lyrics much. They didn’t apply much to me. They do now. God had the love to see me through this.”
After months of exhausting treatments and a surgery to remove a cancerous tumor at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Newnan, the Georgia-based soul and gospel icon is now cancer-free. Staton says her latest scans came back clean just before the July 4th holiday and she celebrated with a poolside family barbecue with ribs, chicken, salmon and lots of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren around her.
“It was a rough road, I can’t lie,” Staton says. “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. I’ve been through hell and back but God was there all the time.”
Staton first publicly revealed her cancer diagnosis last fall in an interview with Rolling Stone. In the summer of 2018, as Staton was rehearsing for her first U.S. tour in over 20 years, she felt a lump on the side of her left breast during a routine self-examination at home. She phoned her doctor the next day. The singer received her test results in the car on the way to a rehearsal for her City Winery gig booked for August 28 at Ponce City Market in Atlanta. Staton was on speaker phone when she received the news and her son (and the bassist in her band), Marcel Williams was driving. Staton says she swore her son to secrecy and did all the dates on the national tour as planned without telling her band or audiences.
“I went onstage each night knowing I had something abnormal growing inside my body that might take my life,” recalls Staton. “But I went out there and I performed like it was my last time on stage, like I might never sing again. That was the emotion and the energy I put into it. Because I was thinking, ‘Maybe this is the last time.’ I didn’t know. I just put everything I had into my music and when I was on stage each night, I didn’t think about the cancer. I didn’t bring it onstage with me. I left the cancer in the dressing room.”
Staton says her oncologist, Dr. John E. McKnight was concerned the singer was delaying treatment because her carcinoma test result came back as a Triple Negative cancer cell diagnosis (the three most common types of receptors known to fuel cancer growth — estrogen, progesterone, and the HER-2/neu gene are not present in the tumor so hormone therapies and drugs that target those receptors are ineffective. Instead, doctors have to use chemotherapy to treat the tumor).
“But God protected me,” says Staton. “It stayed contained. It didn’t spread. I just stood on God’s word. And I had trust in my doctors and did everything they told me I needed to do. I hated those treatments but I did them.”
For months, Staton shared her cancer diagnosis and her treatments with her thousands of fans on Instagram, including the aftermath of her chemo treatments. The singer says her rationale was simple: “Cancer is like any other disease. Folks don’t hide when they have pneumonia. You don’t hide the flu or diabetes. Why are you gonna hide cancer? Let people know what you’re going through. Let’s talk about it. The disease wins when you try and hide.”
In return, Staton’s fans gave her the encouragement and the will to get through those 30 rounds of radiation. “I got prayers and well wishes all the way from Atlanta to Finland, Australia and South Africa,” says Staton. “The U.K. was like ‘You got this, girl!’ The encouragement I received through my Instagram account kept me going. ‘You can do it, You can make it.’ I would get up in the morning and look on my Instagram and see, ‘You got this, Candi. You’re tough!’ I’d think to myself, ‘Yup, I agree with that. I am tough and I’m going to make it through another day.’”
Adds Staton: “I want to thank every single person who took the time to pray for me or uplift me by sending me healing messages. I don’t know what I would have done without them. I would have become a recluse or crawled into a hole. I don’t know that I would have made it. All those people gave me the strength I needed to get through all this. I love them so much.”
The soul — and now cancer — survivor also wants to thank the medical team she credits with saving her life — Consulting physician Dr. Hisa Yamaguchi, oncologist Dr. John E. McKnight, surgeon Dr. Anita Johnson and radiation oncologist Dr. Lily Shakibnia.
On the day her scans came back clean, Staton estimates Atlantans might have been able to hear her ringing that cancer-free bell at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America all the way down in Newnan. I tried to knock that bell clean off that wall!” she says laughing. “I was thinking, ‘This is for every single one of those treatments.’ (laughs). I had to take it out on something. I danced around my doctor’s office. I had to get up and cut a step. It was so refreshing to hear, ‘Candi, you’re cancer-free, girl!’”
The singer says she has two messages for her fans around the world. First, learn how to do and then perform self-breast examinations at home weekly. Don’t just rely on a yearly mammogram. And if cancer runs in your family, insist on a sonogram (just months before her cancer diagnosis, Staton says her yearly mammogram came back clean). Staton’s second message to fans?
No matter what you’re going through, don’t give up hope. Cancer is not a death sentence. I met people at [Cancer Treatment Centers of America] who were beyond stage four cancer, who walked out healed. If you let fear come in and discourage you, then you will die. I just told my body, ‘I don’t have cancer.’ I didn’t order it, I didn’t send for it, it came COD and I’m sending it back!
Since her treatments sidelined Staton’s promotion for her latest album, the critically acclaimed “Unstoppable,” the singer is now focused on getting back on stage and back to the fans she credits with giving her the motivation to survive. I’m not ever gonna slow down,” she says.
“That’s why my latest album is called ‘Unstoppable.’ All the songs on there are uplifting. I want others with cancer to listen to the words of my song ‘Confidence.’ [Singing] ‘I walk like it, I talk like it, I act like it, I move like it, I fight like it, I’ve got Confidence.’ Make it your theme. Can’t nobody stop you but you.”
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.