Celine Dion endured other tragedies before devastating diagnosis

Even before Celine Dion announced Thursday that she had been diagnosed with a rare and progressive neurological disorder known as Stiff-Person Syndrome (SPS), she has faced a series of heartbreaking challenges throughout her life, including the 2016 death of her husband René Angélil.

In an emotional videotaped announcement on Instagram, Dion, 54, said she had been dealing with health problems “for a long time” that have forced her to cancel her European tour in February. The Canadian “My Heart Will Go On” singer said the condition, which affects “something like one in a million people,” has been causing spasms that affect “every aspect of my daily life.” She said she’s had difficulty walking and, perhaps most upsetting for her, she can’t “use my vocal cords to sing the way I’m used to.”

In her announcement, Dion also said she’s been an “open book” with her fans, which has indeed allowed them to feel close to her and offer their support when she’s faced other challenges in her life.

Dion grew up in challenging circumstances, the youngest of 14 children in a close-knit family slept in a drawer as a baby so that her parents could save money on a crib. Growing up, she also said she was bullied at school, due to her thin frame and teeth, Vanity Fair and People reported.

Dion’s first devastating blow came in 1993 when her beloved 16-year-old niece, Karine, died in her arms of complications related to cystic fibrosis, People reported.  “I had her in my arms,” Dion told People. “I started to sing softly in her ear, and out of nowhere her eyes closed.

In 2003, Dion lost her beloved father, Adhémar Dion, who died from cancer at age 80. She told Larry King in 2004:  “It’s very difficult, when you lose a parent, when you lose a close, close, close one. No matter how old they are. Even though if you expect it, you can never be prepared for it.”

Dion’s relationship with Angélil, her husband and manager, also was filled with happiness and heartbreak. She met Angélil in 1980, when she was 12 and he was 38, after her brother, Michel Dondalinger Dion, sent him a demo recording of a song that she, her mother and another brother had jointly written. As Dion’s manager, Angélil helped her career flourish.

The relationship turned romantic in 1994, after the dissolution of Angélil’s second marriage and when Dion was 19 and he was 45. They married five years later in a lavish wedding in Montreal.

But Dion and Angélil struggled to become parents, as Dion shared with her fans. After years of trying to become pregnant, Dion underwent surgery at a fertility clinic in New York to improve her chances of conceiving, she told Oprah Winfrey. The couple also decided to use in vitro fertilization. Their first son, René-Charles Angélil, was born 2001. Dion suffered a miscarriage in 2009 but became pregnant with twins the following year after undergoing her sixth IVF procedure. Her twin sons, Eddy and Nelson, were born in October 2010.

Meanwhile, Angélil battled cancer when their children were young. He was first diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998, the Montreal Gazette reported. Dion put her career on hold as he underwent dozens of rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, and was declared cancer free in 2000. Unfortunately, the cancer returned in 2013, and he died in January 2016. Two days after  Angélil’s death — on what would have been his birthday — Dion’s brother, Daniel, died at age 59, also of cancer, CBC reported. 

Dion returned to performing a month later and paid tribute to her husband: “I understood that my career was in a way his masterpiece, his song, his symphony. The idea of leaving it unfinished would have hurt him terribly.”

Dion also has faced other health struggles throughout her four-decade-long career, the Daily Mail reported. In February 2012, she almost lost her ability to sing when she was diagnosed with “weakness in her right vocal chord” after suffering from a viral illness. Following eight weeks of vocal rest, she returned to the stage in June of that year.

Dion also was forced to cancel more shows in 2018 after she began suffering from Patulous Eustachian tube dysfunction, a disorder that causes the valve in the ear to remain open. Now that she has SPS, she faces the possibility that she’ll lose the ability to walk or talk, as the condition affects the nervous system, “specifically the brain and spinal cord,” CNN reported, citing the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

While there is no cure for SPS, there are treatments to slow the progression, and Dion revealed she is doing all she can to minimize the symptoms. She thanked her fans, saying, “Take care of yourselves. Be well. I love you guys so much, and I really hope I can see you again real soon.”

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