Breast-cancer survivor Olivia Newton-John talks about the transforming power of illness.
By Charmian Christie
The barefoot woman calmly walking a labyrinth in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success DVD resembles the stiletto-heeled bombshell strutting her stuff in Grease. At 59, Olivia Newton-John remains petite, blonde, and beautiful, but the sprightly energy that once bounced “Let’s Get Physical” to the top of the charts has been replaced by the tranquil, unruffled confidence that comes only with experience. Perennially youthful, she remains vibrant and enthusiastic, growing gracefully into herself.
Olivia Newton-John’s serene and lasting beauty didn’t get help from a soft focus lens or the pampered existence of a top international star. It came from facing the challenges thrown in her celebrity path, such as breast cancer in the early 1990s, and using them to grow, not wither. While her fans might feel life has been cruel and unfair to the clean-living singer, Olivia Newton-John thinks she’s blessed. “For me, breast cancer was a gift. A gift,” she says with emphasis. “I was so lucky to have survived. It left me with a lot of benefits I can now share with other people.”
Perhaps her optimism springs from her unusual willingness to share some of the responsibility for its cause. “I read old interviews of myself before I went through [breast cancer], and I used to talk about being worried about getting old or getting sick. Who knows if I created it just to have to face my fear? I often wonder about that,” she says, quickly adding, “Be careful what you think. Your thoughts create your world.”
Olivia’s brave new world
And Olivia Newton-John has created a new world for herself, her fans, and those facing cancer. Along with evolving her music, she’s added healing to her long list of credits. Not only did she collaborate with self-help authority Deepak Chopra on his new DVD The Seven Spiritual Laws of Healing, she’s partnered with a line of breast health products, called simply Olivia. Turning her personal experience into a platform for helping others, she has enthusiastically stepped outside the music industry box to promote a breast self-exam kit and dietary supplements specifically targeting breast health. “When you go through [cancer], things open up,” she says.
Olivia’s world opened so widely, she founded GAIA Retreat & Spa in Australia, a holistic center focusing on the mind-body connection. With a capacity of only 40 guests, the spa offers organic food, often grown in the spa’s own garden, and beautiful views of Byron Bay. Here, she says clients feel “nurtured, pampered, and restored,” and she describes the intimate spa as “barefoot Armani—classy but relaxed and casual.”
Stepping further into the realm of healing, Olivia has given her name and substantial funds to a wellness center in Melbourne’s Austin Hospital. Clearly passionate about the center, her words reveal her sense of ownership. “We’re building a wonderful wellness center as part of the hospital grounds where, before and after therapy, you can go and pray, meditate, get a cup of tea, relax, or talk to other people who are going through [cancer].”
Olivia seems equally glad to be involved with Chopra’s new film since his meditations and healing suggestions helped her cope with her cancer. “He was wonderful to me,” she says. More than a celebrity spokesperson, she opened her home to the film. The labyrinth she walks at the beginning of Seven Spiritual Laws of Success is her own. “I’ve always loved labyrinths. The last couple of years I went through a loss and wanted to build this labyrinth as a healing for myself,” she says.
Coping with multiple stresses
While life has provided Olivia with numerous accolades—four Grammys, a place in the Australian Music Hall of Fame, and the honor of being an Officer of the Order of both the British Empire and Australia—it has also given her many hardships. Although Olivia readily credits her friends and daughter for helping her through the cancer, she doesn’t underplay the role of inner strength. “I don’t think we know how much inner strength we have until faced with something like this,” she says. “It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have a choice.” And life was shutting off Olivia’s choices.
“The day I was diagnosed with cancer, my father died,” she says. The doctors felt flying from LA to Australia would be too stressful, so Olivia didn’t attend her father’s funeral. “That was the first time in my life that I had to put myself first,” she says, noting that coming second is a common pattern for many women, whether they’re famous or not. “As women, we put our families, our children, our friends, our careers first and then we get seconds. You know how mothers get cold toast.”
But she doesn’t sugarcoat it. Coming first was anything but easy. To deal with the double blow, she put grieving her father on hold, mourning him incrementally over the years. She still speaks of him with emotion and admits she doesn’t have full closure. “I don’t think you ever close loss. The wounds heal, but the skin on that area is always more delicate.” Her voice goes soft. “I miss my daddy.”
Making beautiful music together
Music has always been an outlet for Olivia Newton-John. She wrote Gaia in response to her breast cancer and explores healing further with her most recent release, Grace and Gratitude. Produced by longtime friend Amy Sky, the album flows seamlessly from one track to the next like a strand of smooth pearls. “I don’t want you to be jolted,” Olivia says. The resulting album is so fluid and tranquil they play it at Olivia’s Gaia spa during one-hour massages.
Attitude of gratitude
Faced with a busy schedule and frequent travel, Olivia maintains her emotional health with daily rituals. “I wake up in the morning and give thanks for everything even before I open my eyes. I lie there for a few minutes and think about how fortunate I am to live another day,” she says. She also walks her labyrinth and meditates to keep herself calm and grounded. “You can only create peace from within. It’s not where you are; it’s who you are within yourself that creates peace.”
Despite her work with awareness, healing spas, and hospitals, Olivia Newton-John seems taken aback when asked what advice she’d give other women. “Wow!” she says stopping to think. You can almost hear her switch from professional mode to the personal level. “Get the best information on your illness. The most important thing is to find someone who knows what you’re going through.” Without underplaying the role of modern Western medicine, Olivia found hope to be the best nonmedicinal remedy. When her oncologist put her in touch with a cancer survivor, it made a huge difference in her outlook. “I was very afraid,” she admits. “If you can, talk to someone who’s been through it and is still there. It’s very important.”
With so many accomplishments, across so many fields, what’s next? Olivia laughs. “That’s the crystal ball question!” While she’s working on a new Christmas album, she has not set agenda. “Physically, I’ll be in Australia. Mentally, I hope to be more elevated than I am now.”
Charmian Christie is a writer from Ontario, Canada, and a frequent contributor to AlternativeMedicine.
Olivia Newton-John’s Tips on Surviving Illness
Stop worrying and stay positive. “Be careful what you think,” says Olivia. “Your thoughts create your world.”
• Draw on your inner power—yes, you’ve got some!—when faced with life’s challenges. “I don’t think we know how much inner strength we have until faced with something like this,” Olivia says. “It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have a choice.”
• Know when to put yourself first—and don’t feel guilty about it. When her father died, Olivia couldn’t attend his funeral because of her own fight against cancer. “That was the first time in my life that I had to put myself first,” she says.”
• Say “thank you” for your life. “I wake up in the morning and give thanks for everything even before I open my eyes,” Olivia says. “I lie there for a few minutes and think about how fortunate I am to live another day.”
• Be serene from the inside out. “It’s not where you are; it’s who you are within yourself that creates peace,” Olivia says. She meditates each morning to keep herself calm and grounded.
• If you’re sick, get the best information you can about your illness.
• Get in touch with someone who knows what you’re going through. When Olivia’s oncologist put her in touch with a cancer survivor, it made a huge difference in her outlook. “If you can, talk to someone who’s been through it and is still there. It’s very important.”
• Find a creative way to vent and heal. Music has always been an outlet for Olivia Newton-John. She wrote Gaia in response to her breast cancer and explores healing further with her most recent release, Grace and Gratitude.
• Turn your personal experience into a way to help others. Olivia Newton-John promotes a breast self-exam kit and dietary supplements specifically targeting breast health. She also partnered with Deepak Chopra on his new DVD.