Get Inspired: Olivia Newton-John

By Lauren Piscopo

Olivia Newton-John, the Grammy Award–winning singer and actress who’s best known for her role as Sandy in Grease, is thriving in her third career: breast cancer activist. Since beating the disease in 1992, Olivia’s been hopefully devoted to educating women about early detection and holistic treatments. The super-busy 62-year-old runs the holistic Gaia Retreat & Spa in Byron Bay, Australia; helps her husband promote the healing properties of Amazonian herbs; and just broke ground on a mind-body–focused cancer center in her native Melbourne. Right before she left to perform and speak at breast cancer benefits in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and Japan during October, Olivia chatted with Natural Solutions.

Do you find strength in connecting with other breast cancer survivors?
Being a public person, I was kind of forced into talking about my cancer battle, but I’m really grateful for that because it got it off my chest, so to speak. The year after I went through chemo, a woman approached me in a restaurant bathroom and said, ‘Oh, Liv, I read in the paper that you have cancer, and I just want you to know I had it 20 years ago and I’m fine.’ That led me to realize I could help others just by saying, ‘Look, I’m still here.’ It’s like passing the torch. I always talk about this woman who inspired me, and lo and behold, a couple of months ago, her husband heard me tell this story on the radio. He then asked his wife, ‘Wasn’t that you, dear? Wasn’t that you in the restaurant?’ She’s now 80 years old, and she’s still just fine. And that has given me another boost.  

Why do you prefer to call survivors “thrivers”?
I think the word surviving sounds like you’re just hanging in there. But thriving says, ‘I’m doing great!’ It’s just a different way of thinking about it because you are what you think.

Do you think a positive attitude can help a person heal?
It’s very important to believe you’re going to be well and visualize that. I tell women in treatment to ask a friend or their partner to talk to the people who call and want to know the status of their condition. If not, you’ll spend your whole life talking about illness—and that’s not healthy. Focus on positive things that make you feel good. Take that 20 minutes you would have spent talking about being sick and go for a walk or meditate, have a cup of tea, or listen to music. Do something for yourself.

What advice do you have for a woman just diagnosed with breast cancer?  
Find someone to talk to who’s been through it. Ask your doctor to connect you with a woman who’s going to have the same regime as you, so you two can be there for each other. Get as much advice as you can about nutrition to give you strength to go through this journey. But, above all, talk to your body and say it’ll be alright.

Why do some women avoid regular breast self-exams?  
I think it’s because they’re afraid to find something. But the earlier you find it—if it is indeed cancer, because often lumps are benign—the better your chances of getting through it. I encourage women to do regular checks by handing out my Liv Aid breast self-exam device [] because I found a lump that didn’t show on the mammogram or needle biopsy. If I hadn’t felt it, I wouldn’t have been so adamant that there was something there. I knew it.