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Olivia Newton-John wears many hats. “I’m a mother, a wife, a singer, an actress, a cancer philanthropist, author,” she says. And whether you know her from Grease, Xanadu, Glee or RuPaul’s Drag Race, you know this about her: The longtime celeb is a ray of sunshine. And she credits that, in part, to how she’s dealt with three bouts of cancer — including the one that she’s currently in the midst of — over the past 27 years.
“The only thing I could advise is to keep a positive attitude, which is what I’ve tried to do my whole life,” says Newton-John, despite noting that her just-published memoir, Don’t Stop Believin’, does not offer advice, and that it’s not a “kiss-n-tell.” Instead, she notes, “I just tell my story.”
A big part of her story has been dealing with breast cancer. “The first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was 1992,” she recalls. “I found a lump in my breast, [but] my mammogram was negative. I had a feeling… and we found out the cancer was hiding. So I always tell women even if they tell you they don’t see anything, trust how you feel. Trust your instincts.”
Though see was frightened by her diagnosis, Newton-John says, “I had to make a decision that no matter what, I was going to be OK. My main decision was, I’m going to get better, and I have a young child to raise.” She had a modified radical mastectomy followed by chemotherapy treatment. “Then I did everything that I could to get healthy,” she says.
Newton-John spoke out about having cancer for the first time only after being “outed, so to speak,” by a media outlet that had planned to write a story about how she was “dying.”
“In 1992, people didn’t really talk about cancer…” she says. But after the newspaper learned of her situation, we decided that I would make it public. I’m a pretty private person. So to be publicly talking about my breasts and what was going on with them was a very strange thing for me.” But in looking back now, she says, “I realize it was the right thing to do. It helped other people. It also helped me, because I think it was important not to be holding stuff in.”
She’s remained outspoken, and even has a hospital named after her In Melbourne, Australia — the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre, which has not only treatments and places “to go for solace,” but wellness programs in music and arts and meditation, and group therapies.
She wound up in her own facility in September of 2018, when she found out that her cancer had metastasized. “Metastasize happens, so it wasn’t a total shock to me,” she says. “But the wonderful thing was that this happened when I was in Australia… I ended up in my hospital for three weeks… I got to experience the programs that I’d worked so hard to convince them are important. And they were.”
Finally, Newton-John notes, she is a cannabis advocate when it comes to health and wellness. “I use a lot of cannabis in my healing. It helped me incredibly with pain and sleep,” she says. “Opiates are killing people and cannabis doesn’t.”
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