Since 2017, when Olivia Newton-John’s breast cancer returned for the third time—this time having painfully metastasized to her bones—the “Grease” star says she’s found a treatment regimen that seems to be working well. It involves a mixture of conventional cancer treatment and complementary herbal medicine. In an interview with SurvivorNet, Newton-John shared that her husband of 11 years, John Easterling, the founder and chairman of Amazon Herb Company, makes her tinctures (liquid extracts) from the cannabis that he grows, and that she’s also been taking natural supplements, including turkey tail (an antioxidant-rich mushroom extract), Graviola supplements (derived from a plant believed to have medicinal properties), vitamin B17, and high doses of vitamin C, which she says she’s been getting through an Amazonian fruit called camu camu.Read More
Importantly, Newton-John shared that she’s been doing exactly that—pairing these natural herbs and supplements with her conventional breast cancer treatment in a complementary approach called “integrative medicine.” Right now, the star said she’s receiving hormone therapy for her breast cancer, and in the past, she’s undergone radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy.
Remarkable Survivor, Three Times Over
At 70 years old, Olivia Newton-John has lived a remarkable life. She’s won four Grammy Awards, sold over 100 million records, and has her name on a Hollywood Walk of Fame star. She famously starred as Sandy in “Grease,” and her voice became a generational icon. She’s a mother, a loving wife, and an environmental advocate. She’s also an extraordinary survivor; Olivia Newton-John has been living with breast cancer for 27 years, over a third of her life.
Newton-John was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, at which time she underwent chemotherapy and a surgery to remove one of her breasts, called a modified radical mastectomy. She was then cancer-free until 2013, when her cancer returned. That time, she received hormone treatment and her cancer entered remission again.
Then, in the spring of 2017, Newton-John’s cancer returned a third time. This time it was stage IV, meaning it had spread beyond her breasts and begun metastasizing elsewhere in her body, including in her bones. A painful cancerous tumor in her sacrum—the bone at the bottom of her spine—ultimately caused the bone to break.
The prognosis for metastatic breast cancer, Newton-John acknowledged, is “a pretty ugly picture.” But she said she’s “choosing to paint a good picture” instead. It’s been two years now since her cancer returned, and remarkably, she told SurvivorNet, she’s doing well.
“I’m in a pretty good place,” Netwon-John said. “I’m mobile, I’m feeling strong, I’ve put on some weight. Everything’s good.”
Below is a lightly-edited transcript of the conversation we had with Olivia Newton-John.
SurvivorNet: Your journey with breast cancer started in 1992—over 25 years ago. What has it been like to spend such a significant part of your life as a survivor?
Olivia Newton-John: I’ve adjusted to living with cancer, which I am very lucky to say I’m able to do. I’m doing really well. I think that this journey has increased my gratitude, really, because when you’ve had cancer a few times, and you don’t know the outcome, you’re just grateful for the moments you’re having, or the days you’re having, or the hours you’re having. I think it’s also made me more accepting of anything. This too will pass. I will get to the other side, and I intend to live for a much longer time, even though if you ask for the diagnosis and you have stage IV breast cancer that’s metastasized to your bones, you could paint a pretty ugly picture. But I’m painting a good one. I feel really good.
SurvivorNet: You’ve been open about using medical marijuana to help with pain and stress during your cancer journey. Have you been receiving other treatments, too?
Olivia Newton-John: I believe in the holistic approach of using everything you can that you’re comfortable with. So I do that. I’m taking anti-estrogenic pharmaceutical pills [hormone treatment]. I take a lot of herbal supplements like turkey tail and Graviola and B17 and D and high doses of vitamin C, which I get through Camu Camu, which is an Amazonian plant. Other supportive herbal treatments have also really helped me. My husband [John Easterling] makes me cannabis tinctures, which he grows for me. Many different herbs have helped me with sleep and pain, and with cannabis, I was able to wean myself off of morphine after being in the hospital with a broken sacrum [from the breast cancer metastasis].
SurvivorNet: Can you talk a bit about how these herbal treatments have been a complement—rather than a replacement—for conventional cancer treatment?
Olivia Newton-John: I share it all with my doctor, and she’s been very positive about it because she’s seen positive results with some of her other patients, too. But I’ve done a mixture [of conventional medicine and natural, alternative therapies]. Like when I was in Australia and had the broken sacrum, it turned out I had some tumors that needed to be zapped, so we did targeted radiotherapy on those places. And after my first breast cancer diagnosis, I had surgery and chemotherapy. These past two diagnoses, I haven’t done chemo, but I’ve had radiation and [hormone] therapies.
SurvivorNet: The holistic approach—the combination of conventional medicine and alternative medicine—was that an inspiration for the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre that you helped to establish in Melbourne, Australia?
Olivia Newton-John: Yes. What got me going [with the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre] was my mother telling me, “Honey, if you can help people, do it.” It’s been a long and wonderful journey of raising funds to build a cancer center—and I did say I would lend my name only if they include a wellness center. That was really important to me, so that we could support the whole person going through this journey. We have acupuncture and meditation and yoga and homeopathy and all the things that I was able to do for myself when I was going through cancer—and that people can’t always afford to do. I wanted to make that a part of the program, and I’ve been very grateful and very thrilled that the patients are getting to experience those things as well. We got to incorporate the research into the whole under-one-roof concept. Research, wellness, and treatment—that’s what’s happening there, and I’m very happy.
SurvivorNet: How has your cancer journey shaped your relationships?
Olivia Newton-John: The true friends have become truer. Some people kind of just can’t cope with [illness] well and I understand that. And that’s ok, because I have wonderful friends who can. And we don’t talk about it a lot. I just had some great tests done, so I’ll tell my core group of friends that everything is going well, but apart from that, it’s not something I dwell on or talk about, which I think is healthy. With myself, this journey has probably made me more accepting of taking care of myself. As women, we tend to put everybody else first, and now I’m a little bit more conscious of making sure I’m ok.
SurvivorNet: What advice do you have for other women living with breast cancer?
Olivia Newton-John: Oh gosh, there’s so much to say—and yet so little, because it’s such a personal journey and such a personal choice of how you decide to travel this journey. I think I would tell women that you can train yourself to be positive about your experience. Always be aware of that. And do as much research as you can, and follow your own instincts in this. Because if you’re told—and I’ve heard this from a lot of women— ‘Oh, the doctor said I was fine, but I kind of felt I wasn’t, but I didn’t follow it up,’ Follow it up! Follow it up. Because as women, we have that knowingness about ourselves as we do about our kids. And if you feel something wrong and you follow it up and it turns out nothing’s wrong, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. That’s good news!
And then one other thing I would say is to find someone you’re close to—whether it’s your family, your husband, your best friend—find someone to field all the calls you’re going to get. Because people are going to be calling you to see how you’re doing and how you’re feeling, and it’s exhausting. It’s not healthy to be talking about sickness all the time. So get somebody else to do that for you so that you can take time to do something you enjoy for yourself.