7 Things Olivia Newton-John Wanted You To Know About Breast Cancer

"I always say to women, ‘If you have an instinct that something isn’t right, follow it up.’"
Olivia Newton-John in September 16, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia.
Scott Barbour via Getty Images
Olivia Newton-John in September 16, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia.

Dame Olivia Newton-John has died at the age of 73, more than 30 years after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer.

The singer and actor, who found global fame thanks to her role as Sandy in Grease, died “peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California” on Monday morning, with her loved ones around her, her husband announced.

The British-born Australian-raised star was given the first of three cancer diagnoses in 1992. She remained cancer-free until a recurrence in 2013, but was subsequently diagnosed for the third time in September 2018.

Over the years, she’s used her platform to speak about the disease and advocate for further cancer research to help others diagnosed.

To celebrate her legacy, here are just a handful of the things she wanted the world to know about breast cancer.

If you think something is wrong, seek a second opinion

In an interview with You magazine in 2021, Newton-John recalled her journey towards diagnosis

“I found a lump in my breast. The mammogram and biopsy didn’t show anything, but I still felt something was wrong,” she said. “My surgeon and I decided to do a further exploratory biopsy and found the cancer. That is why I always say to women, ‘If you have an instinct that something isn’t right, follow it up.’ I am very grateful that I did.”

Some people live with cancer for years

Thanks to advances in technology, a breast cancer diagnosis isn’t an inevitable, overnight death sentence for everyone. Newton-John spoke repeatedly about living a long and full life.

“Here I am 18 years later and I am talking about it and I was fearful of talking about it the first five years because a lot of women are until we get to that five-year marker, but all I can really say is, here I am and I am here, so you can be,” she said in 2010, according to US Weekly.

Olivia on the set of Grease in 1978 with John Travolta.
Olivia on the set of Grease in 1978 with John Travolta.

She was a big believer in holistic therapies

Alongside surgery, chemo and radiotherapy Newton-John was open (and vocal) about her use of medical cannabis. Her belief in it was so strong, she set up the Olivia Newton-John Foundation to fund research into holistic therapies for cancer.

Cancer Research UK says “right now, there isn’t a large enough body of evidence to prove that cannabis (or any of its active compounds or derivatives) can reliably treat any form of cancer” but adds “the medical use of cannabis to treat cancer-related chronic pain is approved in the UK”.

Speaking about her own personal use of plant-based therapies to the Guardian in 2020, Newton-John said: “I was nervous of it in the beginning. But I could see the benefits once I started using it. It helps with anxiety, it helps with sleep, it helps with pain.

“I’m not telling anyone to do anything. I just want to do the research and find out which things work.”

Hearing about time limits isn’t for everyone

Some cancer patients might like to know their life expectancy, but Newton-John ensured she was never given a number by medics.

“When you’re given a cancer diagnosis or a scary honest diagnosis, you’re suddenly given a possibility of a time limit,” she said during an interview with 60 Minutes Australia.

She continued: “If somebody tells you, you have six months to live, very possibly you will because you believe that. So for me, psychologically, it’s better not to have any idea of what they expect, or what the last person that has what you have lived, so I don’t tune in.”

Not everyone sees cancer as a ‘battle’

We often hear words like “battle” and “fight” associated with cancer, but Newton-John didn’t find that language helpful. Instead, she said her focus on gratitude and wellness was key to maintaining her mental health.

“I don’t think of myself as sick with cancer,” she told the Guardian in 2020. “I choose not to see it as a fight either because I don’t like war. I don’t like fighting wherever it is – whether it’s outside or an actual war inside my body. I choose not to see it that way. I want to get my body healthy and back in balance. Part of that is your mental attitude to it.”

Everyone has bad days

Newton-John spoke a lot about positive thinking, but during her 2017 Today show appearance she acknowledged that’s it’s normal to have bad days.

Speaking of her second diagnosis, she said: “Having it happen again, I thought to myself, ‘I’ve done it before, I got through this before and I can do it again,’” she said. “Of course, you have fear. That’s only natural. But my positive outlook is a decision. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I have dark moments and negative moments, I’m human. But on a general scale, I tend to see the glass is half full.”

Towards the end, death is something you accept

In one of her final interviews recorded last year, Newton-John spoke about approaching death without fear.

“We all know we’re going to die, but I think we spend our lives in denial”, she said on Sarah Grynberg’s A Life of Greatness podcast.

“It’s extremely personal so it’s hard to put into words. I feel that we are all one thing and I’ve had experiences with spirits and spirit life. I believe there is something that happens.

“I hope the energies of the people you love will be there. I think all the love will be there. I’m sort of looking forward to that, not now, but when it happens.”