Olivia Newton-John has heard this news before – and it’s not good, either. Yet again, doctors tell her that she has cancer, and this time it’s in both her breast and her lower back. But while the stage-four status of the disease may be daunting for others, Newton-John tries to keep focus on the good in her life. She shares that positivity with others, too, as much as she is able – but that doesn’t stop her plight from being heartbreaking.
And there’s one facet of the diagnosis that Newton-John can’t face, involving one of the questions that a patient may ask their doctor when they find out they have cancer. The “Physical” singer refuses to learn this information, however, as she believes that it’s a hindrance to both her treatment and her healing.
Such a method may have worked for Newton-John before, as she has faced tough cancer battles in the past. In 1992, for instance, she had her first brush with breast cancer from which she ultimately walked away successfully. Then in 2013 she found a lump in her shoulder that she thought was a bruise – but that was cancer, too.
Yet none of this seems to faze Newton-John. Instead, she says, she meditates and contemplates cancer leaving her body, and she implores her medications to make it happen. And she won’t let her doctors tell her one detail about her state of her health, as she thinks it could give the disease the push that it needs to win.
Cambridge, England-born Olivia Newton-John moved from the U.K. to Australia at the age of six, but she found her way back to the British Isles shortly over a decade later. The future star made the trip after she had won a talent competition that came with a free journey to Great Britain, and her mother encouraged the budding singer to go.
But while Newton-John started to record music in England, she always wanted to move back to Australia. Her mother made the decision for her, though, by canceling her flights back to the Land Down Under. And it seems that interference ultimately ended up helping Newton-John’s career. Eventually, you see, fellow Aussie singer Pat Carroll also came to the U.K., and the pair started to tour as duetting partners.
Then in 1971 Newton-John went solo once again – this time through full-length album If Not for You. The title song even earned the Australian her first number one hit on the U.S. adult contemporary charts. Nevertheless, while her subsequent string of singles did well in both her home country and in the U.K., it would take a couple more years before she had another American smash.
In 1973 Newton-John’s song “Let Me Be There” garnered her a Grammy award for Best Country Female. After finding success in the genre, then, she released an album called If You Love Me, Let Me Know with a handful of twangy tracks. One, called “I Honestly Love You,” would even become a number one pop song in the U.S. and win Newton-John a pair of further Grammys.
Not everyone appreciated Newton-John’s foray into country music, however. In fact, some took issue with the fact that an Australian had seemingly muscled her way into the genre. It may not have helped, either, that Newton-John scooped the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year award in 1974 – beating none other than Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn to the honor.
And while Newton-John ultimately faded away from the country music scene, that’s not to say that she didn’t find success in other areas. In 1977, you see, she began to shoot a movie called Grease. That musical would become the biggest movie of 1978, while its soundtrack ultimately went to number one on the charts too.
With Grease came a shift in Newton-John’s image; now, she was a sexy songstress. And her new style arguably helped to push her 1981 album Physical to the top of the charts. Not only that, but the title song of the record would also rack up ten weeks as a Billboard number one.
Yet although Newton-John’s career started to slow down into the mid-’80s, she did have some exciting news in her personal life. She and her then-husband, Matt Lattanzi, welcomed their first and only child, a daughter named Chloe, in January 1986, with the star going on to take a close to three-year break from her career.
Newton-John subsequently returned to the spotlight in 1989, although her motherhood-inspired album Warm and Tender failed to reignite her career. Then, three years after that, she intended to embark on what could have been a huge comeback for her: an album compiling her greatest hits and an accompanying tour. Sadly, though, these plans would be sharply curtailed.
That’s because in 1992 Newton-John found out that she had breast cancer – and at an already heartbreaking time for the singer. As she later wrote on the website for her Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Center, “The diagnosis came [on] the same weekend [that] my father died of cancer, so you can imagine the shock.”
But Newton-John wouldn’t let her mind take her to dark or defeated places. She wrote, “I learned very quickly how important it was for me to think positively. When the second friend I called with the news burst into tears, I thought, ‘This is too stressful.’ I had to find someone else to handle the day-to-day discussions of my health so I could concentrate on healing.”
And heal the star did, after a slew of treatments aimed at ridding herself of breast cancer. She later wrote, “I underwent a partial mastectomy, chemotherapy and breast reconstruction. I did herbal formulas [and] meditation and focused on a vision of complete wellness.” Consequently, her combination of treatments proved successful.
Then, in October 1998, Newton-John told People how she planned to maintain her new-found health: by no longer smoking, drinking or worrying about her former diagnosis. She said, “As far as I’m concerned, [the cancer]’s gone. That’s the way I choose to see it – and that’s the right way for me.”
But cancer would come back to Newton-John for a second time, although she’d discover it in a roundabout way. After the actress and singer had a minor car accident in 2013, she discovered a lump on her shoulder that she thought may be post-crash bruising. It turned out, though, that the swelling was yet another manifestation of the disease she had previously conquered.
And in 2018 Newton-John said on the Australian TV show Sunday Night that she hadn’t wanted the public to know about her second struggle with cancer. She said, “I thought, ‘It’s my life,’ and I just decided to keep it to myself.” The star had since changed her mind, however – not least because the disease had returned yet again.
Yes, in 2017 Newton-John revealed her third diagnosis. And this time, it was a very serious one, as she had stage four breast cancer that had spread to her back. On Sunday Night, she said of her latest battle, “I’m one of millions in this fight… I shouldn’t say fight – in this journey.”
In her third bout with the disease, though, Newton-John had decided to take a multifaceted approach to healing herself. As well as taking the medicine prescribed to her, she also stopped consuming sugar and took to marijuana to soothe any pain. Her second husband, John Easterling, cultivated the plant at their home in California.
As such, Newton-John had a positive outlook during her interview with Sunday Night. She said, “My husband’s always there, and he’s always there to support me. And I believe I will win over [cancer], and that’s my goal.” Nevertheless, in early 2019, rumors swirled about the singer’s well-being – with some news outlets even reporting that the end was near for her.
At that time, then, Newton-John took to Facebook to address the stories saying that her passing was imminent. She responded, “Happy new year, everyone. This is Olivia Newton-John, and I just want to say that the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated, to quote a very famous quote.”
Even so, a couple of months later Newton-John did reveal to People that her third fight against cancer hadn’t been easy. Not only had the disease come back, you see, but the increased fragility of her bones had caused a pelvic fracture. Yet during the interview, the star seemingly maintained her positive outlook. She claimed, for example, “I never say ‘Why me?’”
And Newton-John only reiterated this point in an August 2019 interview with Australia’s 60 Minutes. There, she said, “I’m so lucky that I’ve been through this [cancer fight] three times, and I’m still here. I’m living with it. It’s just reinforced my gratitude.” Still, she added, cancer did force some sufferers to face a tough reality that others may not experience.
Newton-John explained, “We know we’re going to die at some point, and we don’t know when it is. When you’re given a cancer diagnosis or a scary honest diagnosis, you’re suddenly given a possibility of a time limit.” Yet she chose to look at such realities as a positive and not a negative.
“The truth is,” Newton-John went on, “you could get hit by a truck tomorrow.” She added, “Every day is a gift – particularly now.” And given this sunny outlook, it probably comes as no surprise that the singer feels as though she’ll conquer the disease once again. She revealed, “I’m getting strong again, so I’m good.”
But Newton-John does have to protect herself from bad news to maintain her optimistic demeanor. So, even though she accepts that the potential of impending death means living each day fully, she has yet to ask her doctors about her own life expectancy. The star added, “I don’t read statistics.” And she has a good explanation as to why.
Newton-John said, “If you believe the statistics, you’re going to make it happen. If somebody tells you [that] 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 – I don’t tune in. It’s just better for me.”
That said, Newton-John seemed to have no trouble reframing her diagnosis as a manageable part of her life. She continued, “It’s something I’m living with. I see [cancer] as something in my body I’m getting rid of.” For that reason, she added, she didn’t like to use fight-related descriptors to explain her healing to others.
“I don’t talk about a battle or a war, because I think that sets up that kind of feeling in your body like you’re battling something strange inside you,” Newton-John explained. “I let it go and tell it to leave and talk to my body to heal itself and don’t try to make it that. That takes up your whole life and your whole being.”
And, unsurprisingly, Newton-John added that she had no intentions of making her cancer a focal point of her life. She went on “I kind of have a way of dissociating and compartmentalizing it. Otherwise you become a victim, which I don’t want to be and am not. Or you become a slave to it, and talk about it all the time, which I try not to do either.”
To that end, Newton-John’s daughter, Chloe, said in the same 60 Minutes interview that she tried to keep her mother’s cancer out of focus, too. “We don’t talk about it. If [my mom’s] having a day where she needs to talk about it, I’m there to listen and always reassure. But I’ll never bring it up unless she wants to,” she said.
Yet it may have taken Chloe a while to get into that headspace. She said, too, that her mother’s first cancer diagnosis in 1992 had become “more powerful” precisely because her parents had hidden it from her. And Chloe admitted, “I think getting into [the diagnosis and] explaining it to me would have given me more of a sense of control.”
Still, Chloe said that she understood Newton-John’s motives. It seems, too, that she felt as though her mother’s diagnoses had helped her deal with her own issues. Chloe had previously battled anxiety, depression, an eating disorder and substance abuse, and she told 60 Minutes, “Her illness helped me heal my illness.”
Newton-John needed her, after all, and this helped Chloe change. The star’s daughter said, “I knew I needed to be – I wanted to be – bright and happy and available and around for my mom when she was struggling with [cancer]. There’s no more running away anymore from your pain. Deal with it. She needs you. I feel like I’ve just become a much better person.”
And that assertion was something with which Newton-John agreed – proof, perhaps, that her positive outlook had already changed one life. The star said, “I’ve seen a huge change and growth in [Olivia]. She’s just the most beautiful being, and [she] has a huge heart and great compassion and understanding… She’s my daughter, and she’s part of me.”
As for Newton-John, she said that she planned to continue her treatment path. Along with her cancer medications, she still uses cannabis as a way in which to ease her pain; she also relies on holistic methods such as herbal remedies.
And, of course, Newton-John’s positive outlook helps her, too – as it always has. She even revealed that she goes so far as to envision her medicine healing her from disease whenever she meditates. The Australian claimed, “I visualize [the cancer] leaving and see the herbs and the medicines that I’m taking making it go.”
So, it seems that cancer plays just a small part of Newton-John’s day-to-day life. And when the subject of her own mortality came up on 60 Minutes, she had an answer that encapsulated her attitude toward her disease. As Newton-John put it, she only sees death as “a long way away.”