Lebanese pop star Elissa opened up about her battle with breast cancer at the Dubai Health Forum on Monday, telling the audience she has become vegan since her diagnosis and that she decided to speak about her health to "raise awareness" across the Arab world.
The singer, 46, says her decision to go vegan was not about following a "trend".
“It was to help myself,” she told the audience. She said she decided to “refrain from eating certain foods” including sugar, meat and dairy after talking to her doctor, especially now she knows she is predisposed to developing breast cancer.
Elissa, who has overcome the disease for now, decided not to talk about her breast cancer diagnosis at first, saying, “I am a strong woman and initially I didn’t want people to know because I didn’t want them to look at me and say ‘what a pity, she is ill’.
"I didn’t even tell my own family members because I didn’t want the news to reach my mother. I didn’t want her to worry.”
How her sister's diagnosis changed things
But then, her sister found out she also had breast cancer. That was when the Maktooba Leek singer decided to open up.
“When she found out that I had breast cancer, she decided to take a mammogram herself and she discovered that she too was suffering from breast cancer. She thankfully got the treatment she needed and recovered. That’s when I realised the importance of raising awareness on breast cancer and early detection. I never asked God 'why me?', but after the video clip dropped and after the response it received, I realised that God picked me because I am an influential person and I have a voice that is heard.
"I believe that God wanted me to raise awareness on the disease.” Elissa says that she believes she “can be a good example of courage”, and that there were times when she “collapsed” during her recovery.
"I therefore visited a psychiatrist who prescribed a drug until I overcame this stage," she told the audience. "I helped myself pull through." She also stressed the importance of carrying on with life during treatment, and said she continued to perform and record music during her recovery because she wanted to continue with life in as normal a manner as possible.
Elissa announced her battle with the illness in August last year with the release of the video for Ila Kol Elli Bihebbouni (To Those Who Love Me).
The video has had more than 20 million views on YouTube, and ends with a strong statement from the singer saying: "I've recovered, I've beaten the illness, and I won... early detection of breast cancer can save your life... don't ignore it, face it."