Country artist Shania Twain has been through a lot. From losing her parents in her early 20s to becoming one of the biggest crossover stars ever to her divorce from husband and producer Mutt Lange, all of it is covered in Twain’s new Netflix documentary Not Just a Girl, which is streaming now. Another major topic that the film tackles is the artist’s battle with Lyme disease, which caused problems with her voice and led to throat surgery. It impacted her so seriously that the 56-year-old star thought she might never sing again.
While Twain has talked about having Lyme disease before, in the documentary she opens up further about her symptoms and how she dealt with believing her music career was over for good. Read on to see what she has to say.
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As reported by CNN, Twain contracted Lyme disease in 2003 while riding a horse in Norfolk, Virginia.
“I was just simply out horseback riding in the forest and got bit by a tick, a Lyme tick,” Twain said on Loose Women in 2020. “It took years to get to the bottom of what was affecting my voice, and I would say probably a good seven years before a doctor was able to find out that it was nerve damage to my vocal cords directly caused by Lyme disease.”
According to Mayo Clinic, Lyme disease is caused by types of bacteria that are carried by ticks. “Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of an infected black-legged tick, commonly known as a deer tick,” the institution explains. Early symptoms include a rash, as well as “fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, headache, neck stiffness and swollen lymph nodes,” which can accompany the rash.
If Lyme disease is untreated, symptoms including joint pain and neurological problems can appear weeks, months, or even years later.
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Before she was diagnosed, one of the symptoms that Twain noticed first was that she was experiencing short, repetitive blackouts while she was performing. At the time, the singer was touring to support her 2002 album Up!.
“My symptoms were quite scary because before I was diagnosed, I was on stage very dizzy,” she says in Not Just a Girl (via People). “I was losing my balance, I was afraid I was gonna fall off the stage… I was having these very, very, very millisecond blackouts, but regularly, every minute or every 30 seconds.”
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Twain also noticed a change in her voice, saying in the documentary that she lost control over it. “My voice was never the same again. I thought I’d lost my voice forever. I thought that was it, [and] I would never, ever sing again,” she explains.
Around the same time, Twain and Lange were going through their divorce.
“In that search to determine what was causing this lack of control with my voice and this change in my voice, I was facing a divorce,” she says. “My husband leaves me for another woman. Now I’m at a whole other low. And I just don’t see any point in going on with a music career.”
Lange left Twain to be with her friend, Marie-Anne Thiébaud. Twain later married Marie-Anne’s ex-husband Frédéric Thiébaud in 2011.
It was a long time before Twain figured out that Lyme disease was connected to her voice issues.
“I was on a long sabbatical, and my son was getting older,” Twain told People in 2020. Twain and Lange have a son, Eja, who is now 20. “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. As my son got more independence, I had more time to start focusing on my voice and I put all my energy into that.”
She continued, “I thought that it was just fatigue or burnout. But no—Lyme disease commonly affects the nerves. When I discovered a glimpse of hope, I ran with that.” Twain then underwent two open-throat surgeries, which allowed her to sing again, but her voice will never be exactly the same as it was before her diagnosis.
“It would have killed me not to be able to ever sing again,” she said. “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.”