Honoring Olivia Newton-John, My Cancer Icon


Hearing the news of Olivia Newton-John’s death shocked me. I’d loved this lady since the early 70s. But shock wasn’t the only emotion I faced — along with it came overwhelming sadness and fear.

When news outlets announced the death of one of my favorite singers, Olivia Newton-John, I wasn’t prepared for the gamut of emotions I’d face. At first, I was shocked.

I knew she’d been fighting breast cancer for many years and had done my best to keep up with her story. I’d been interested in her use of marijuana and had been surprised to learn she and her husband had been growing their own for medicinal use.

As I continued reading about her death, I became overcome with feelings of deep sadness. Newton-John had been initially diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and had faced a recurrence in 2012 when cancer was discovered in her shoulder, then in 2014, it had moved into her spine.

She’d spoken openly over the years about breast cancer and had seemed to stay positive and upbeat. I’d admired her tenacity.

I first fell in love with Olivia Newton-John in the early 70s when she released her song, “I honestly love you.” In fact, I had that song played at my wedding. It was such a sweet, heartfelt song and completely conveyed my feelings toward my husband.

When the movie, “Grease” came out, Newton-John became everyone’s sweetheart. As she sang and acted alongside heartthrob, John Travolta, audiences were captivated. She was portrayed the all-American girl. I wanted to be like her.

In 2014, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I scoured the internet for information and in those searches, Olivia Newton-John kept popping up. I read everything I could about her and learned about her life pre and post cancer. As I read about her use of marijuana, because of its CBD content, I spoke with my doctor about it. If it was good enough for Newton-John, it was good enough for me. He was on board when I mentioned wanting to try it and I had a good experience.

As more details were announced regarding Newton-John’s death, my emotions changed from sadness to fear. If her cancer could return many years after her initial diagnosis, mine could, too.

Standing in the kitchen, cellphone in hand, I began to weep. My husband came over to hold me and asked what was wrong. I began to explain about my superstar’s death and openly shared my fear of recurrence with him. “Don’t worry,” he said, “You’re going to be OK. You’re an eight-year survivor.” Though I heard the words he was saying, I didn’t believe them. Yes, I’m an eight-year survivor, but every day I live afraid.

Some days the fear is more prevalent than others. Most of the time, I can push it to the back of my mind, but when I experience a sudden illness, or an odd pain somewhere in my body, I wonder if the cancer has come back. I don’t want to live that way. Many survivors experience similar feelings. It’s a type of post-cancer PTSD.

As I write this post, something outside the window catches my eye. It’s a beautiful swallowtail butterfly on the butterfly bush. I can’t help but focus on it. I love butterflies. As I watch it flit among the flowers, I notice something – this butterfly has two broken wings! There’s a big chunk taken out of the lower left wing and a piece missing from the top right. Coincidental? I don’t think so.

I think God allowed me to see that specific butterfly today as a reminder. Butterflies with broken wings, can still fly. And I can still live without my breasts.

Should cancer recur in the next few days, months or years, I’ll do my best to get through it. If that broken butterfly can still fly, then why shouldn’t I try to thrive, even under difficult circumstances?

Newton-John was a beautiful soul with a tender heart. I’m thankful she’s no longer suffering, but I’m also sad she’s no longer with us.

The song, “Have You Never Been Mellow,” recorded by Newton-John in 1975, the year I graduated from high school, reminds me that life is precious. It’s worth treasuring and taking time to enjoy.

In honor of Olivia Newton-John, I’m going to take her advice to heart and try to remember to take one day at a time.

We will miss you, Olivia, but we’ll never forget you.

Have You Never Been Mellow?

There was a time when I was in a hurry as you are
I was like you
There was a day when I just had to tell my point of view
I was like you
Now I don't mean to make you frown
No, I just want you to slow down

Have you never been mellow?
Have you never tried to find a comfort from inside you?
Have you never been happy just to hear your song?
Have you never let someone else be strong?

Running around as you do with your head up in the clouds
I was like you
Never had time to lay back kick your shoes off, close your eyes
I was like you

Now you're not hard to understand
You need someone to take your hand, hey

Have you never been mellow?
Have you never tried to find a comfort from inside you?
Have you never been happy just to hear your song?
Have you never let someone else be strong?

Songwriters: John Clifford Farrar

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