By Nick Steele | Photography provided by Denise Truscello
For many, Olivia Newton-John will forever be Sandy from Grease, the girl next door with a heart of gold, who sang and danced her way into our hearts alongside John Travolta. But the English-Australian singer, songwriter, actress, entrepreneur, and activist is so much more. And after five decades in the public eye, we’re being treated to a glimpse behind the headlines through her recently released autobiography Don’t Stop Believin’.
Olivia Newton-John has been in the news a lot lately. After reuniting with Travolta and some of the Grease cast for a special screening and talk to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the film hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last year, came the news that she was facing another health crisis. Although she had successfully received treatment for breast cancer in 1992 and believed herself to be cancer-free, she revealed that not only had her cancer returned in 2013, but again in 2017. The cancer had spread (or metastasized), first to her shoulder and most recently to her lower back, causing her to fracture her sacrum.
Speculation about her health actually led to reports that she was near death. The 70-year old Newton-John gamely faced down those rumors by appearing on social media, beaming her signature smile, confirming that her cancer had returned, but that she was feeling good and that reports of her being near death had been greatly exaggerated.
“When I first had cancer in 1992, I chose chemotherapy and surgery as my treatment,” she explains. “The second time, about five years ago, I just used herbs and specialized IVs to boost my immune system. I did very well on that,” she continues. “Then last year, I got a little more aggressive with it and added in some more Western medicines.”
But Newton-John is also exploring more natural treatments, including modifying her diet by cutting out all sugar and focusing her energy on a whole body approach to wellness. “From what I know, stress can affect your immunity. If you are in a constant state of stress or living under stress, your body doesn’t have the strength to fights things off that it would normally. We all have stress. We’re never going to get rid of stress. But we’re not just a body. Your mind and your spirit influence your body,” she offers. “What we need to do is find a way of releasing it, that works for you. Everyone is different and we all have our own way of doing that. I was able to do all these things for myself. I was able to afford to have meditation classes, acupuncture, homeopathy and massages. I thought that this should be available to everyone being treated for cancer and they should learn about helping their mind, body and spirit. So it was really, really crucial to me that we have all of those elements at my wellness center.”
The Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre (ONJ) at the Austin Hospital in Australia, officially opened in 2012 as a result of Newton-John’s tireless work to help create and fund a world-class hospital, wellness center and research facility. There are currently over 200 clinical trials in progress at the ONJ Centre, providing access to new breakthrough therapies and seeking a cure for cancer.
“I got to experience the center firsthand, this past September, when I ended up in my own hospital for treatment.” she explains of her stay there during last year’s recurrence. “I was able to do artwork in my room and have someone come in and massage my hands and feet. It was just so healing and made the experience so much more pleasant. I was really proud that all these things I was pushing so hard to provide were not only working, but also important to the patients.”
And while she acknowledges that her condition is chronic, she reports that she is stable. “Cancer is something I will need to stay on top of for the rest of my long life,” she says. “It’s up to me to manage my stress, to eat and rest well, and to continue with the healing protocols. I take it one day at a time and today is a great day!”
She prefers not to use words like battle or survivor, “Thriver has a different connotation than survivor,” she explains. “Survivor can mean someone hanging onto a lifeboat. A thriver is more like someone who is already in the lifeboat and is enjoying the view. It’s about that different view. Your words are important because they inform how you think and how you feel. You make that choice by what you say. So I am trying to reinforce the positive. Addressing your emotional health is a major part of your healing. My husband John is always happy to wake me up and remind me, ‘Be careful of what’s in your head. Your body hears you.’”
Her husband, John Easterling, is an American eco-entrepreneur, environmentalist and the founder of the Florida-based natural remedy firm Amazon Herb Company. He also is helping his wife treat her pain. “John makes me a green algae drink, every morning, with all these herbs and cannabis oil.” she says. “He grows the plants and makes them into liquid for me. I take drops maybe four to five times a day.”
But his work goes far beyond just reducing or eliminating the pain those with cancer have to deal with. His focus now with this plant is its natural ability to go after cancer on several fronts. Newton John explains, “The primary focus is on compromising cancer growth by interfering with its life cycle, preventing the cancer from developing its own blood supply by stimulating the natural process of cell suicide known as apoptosis, and activating an immune response to kill the cancer. Everything we do in life revolves around healing of some kind. It not only helps me, but I love that it might also help other people, too. It’s our life mission. He’s my rock. I‘m very lucky to have him.”
In fact, she admits that she hadn’t expected to find love again before she met Easterling. “It was a wonderful surprise and a wonderful gift,” she says of falling in love at 59 years-old.” I’m sure a lot of women can relate. You get into your late fifties, going into your sixties, and you think you’re never going to meet anyone. Well, I’m living proof that you can. I have the most wonderful relationship that I have had in my life. I’m very grateful.”
But she also believes a common goal is essential. “I think that relationships require give and take, compromise, understanding, forgiveness, and letting go of the little stuff,” she explains. “I think it helps to have a common goal that you are both working towards and passionate about really helps. The cannabis thing is something that we are both advocates of and working hard to help make it more available to people. It’s wonderful that in many states in America it is easy, but in many other places and countries, it is impossible. People are suffering and it’s needless suffering. People die from opiates, but people don’t die from cannabis. It’s healing plant has so many more secrets yet for us to discover. They are doing so much important research. Not everyone understands it, but there are so many studies available on the internet. If people really want to learn about it, they can just go on an read about all the positive stuff that is happening with cannabis and what a gift it is to us.”
In fact, cannabis has become something of a family business. “My daughter Chloe, her fiance and her dad have a cannabis farm and they’re doing really well with it.” she says “My husband and I are excited about it and trying to help however we can.”
When I ask her about the lessons that motherhood has taught her, she doesn’t hesitate, “Motherhood puts everything into perspective. With everything that has happened in my life, if anyone asked me what was the most important thing, I’d say it was my child. Nothing compares to that. It’s a gift. I’m just so thrilled to watch her grow. It is a really wonderful experience.”
Another of her favorite people is John Travolta, who she describes as a friend for life. “He just radiates pure joy and love. He is one of the most genuine and sweet people on earth,” she offers. “He really cares for other human beings on a deep level.”
And while she says that the potent chemistry they had for one another during the filming of Grease was real, their timing was always off and they never pursued a romantic relationship. “It was the type of chemistry that you can’t fake,” she recalls. You either have it or you don’t. We had it! In the end, we left the making out to Sandy and Danny, but the deep feeling of sisterly love that I have for John continues to this day.”
When she visited Travolta and had a chance to explore the Ocala/Marion County area, she was struck by all the natural beauty. “Gorgeous. I thought it was fascinating and quite beautiful. You’ve got a lot of horses and I love horses,” she says. “I also love the tropical nights. The nights in Florida, with that warm breeze, are just beautiful. You can’t reproduce that anywhere else.”
Travolta also provided her with a first, after their many years as friends. “I flew into John’s private airport there and I’d never seen anything like that before. I was quite impressed,” she enthuses. “When we were filming Grease, he told me, ‘One day, I’ll have a house with a runway.’ I knew he would.”
When she gets back home to Australia, her favorite place to unwind is the Gaia Resort, which she created with a dear friend. “We wanted to create it as a place where our friends could come,” she explains. “Now it’s turned into this magnificent world-class resort, retreat and spa, We’ve won all kinds of awards from all around the world for it. We have the best food and truly the best healers.”
But most of the time, you can find her on her farm in California with her husband John, two miniature horses named Harry and Winston, their dog Raven, cat Magic and a whole bunch of chickens.
“I love going out and collecting the eggs. How wonderful is that? It is such a gift,” she says. “We’re very lucky that there are a lot of farms near where we live, where we can get fresh produce. And we have friends who are great cooks,” she continues with that uproarious laugh. “We’re so lucky in that respect!”
Newton-John envisions a future for herself there on farm, where she’s an “old lady” sitting around contentedly with her husband, family and their animals. “What I focus on now is finding peace during my healing,” she offers. “I believe in moving forward in life—and never back.”
And what does she want her legacy to be? “My legacy? Wow,” she replies, as if the question has caught her off guard. “I hope that my daughter has a wonderful, happy, healthy, fulfilling life. And I really hope that my hospital will end cancer.”