Dame Olivia Newton-John’s first warning of breast cancer

Zoe Winters explains how to check for breast cancer

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On August 8, 2022, Olivia Newton-John died from breast cancer at the age of 73. Her husband, John Easterling, Tweeted at the time: “Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer. “Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund.”

It was in 1992 when Olivia, then 44, discovered she had a tumour growing in her breast.

As she openly penned on the foundation’s website, for her, the diagnosis came as a “shock”, especially as it occurred on the same weekend her father died of cancer.

Receiving a partial mastectomy (where cancerous tissue is surgically removed from the breast) and chemotherapy, Olivia also delved into holistic therapy.

“I did herbal formulas, meditation, and focused on a vision of complete wellness,” she wrote.

In remission for around 20 years, the cancer returned in 2013, with the first warning sign being a “lump” on her right shoulder.

There can be many signs of breast cancer, from a change in breast size to fluid leaking from the nipple, the NHS says.

Symptoms of breast cancer may include:

  • A new lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast that was not there before
  • A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • A discharge of fluid from either of your nipples
  • A lump or swelling in either of your armpits
  • A change in the look or feel of your skin, such as puckering or dimpling, a rash or redness
  • A rash (like eczema), crusting, scaly or itchy skin or redness on or around your nipple
  • A change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast.

“It’s important to be breast aware so you notice any changes as soon as possible,” the NHS adds.

Breast awareness

“Get used to how your breasts feel at different times of the month,” the health body advises.

As for Olivia, she received a stage four cancer diagnosis in 2017, as the tumour had spread outside of the breast into her back.

In 2020, the Grease (1978) star told TODAY: “Cancer can engulf your mind and engulf your being.

“And I try not to live my life with that in my mind all the time.”

When Olivia passed away, tributes came flooding in from fans and celebrities.

Rebel Wilson, a fellow Australian actress, posted on Instagram: “Seeing you star in the huge Hollywood blockbuster Grease with your natural accent was so instrumental to me as a little girl.

“Helping me to believe that it was possible for an Aussie girl to star in huge international musicals.”

Anybody who is concerned they are presenting with symptoms of cancer are best to book a doctor’s appointment.

In many cases, there could be a minor health condition causing symptoms but, if cancer is detected, the sooner treatment begins, the better the prognosis is likely to be.

If Olivia didn’t get seen to when she did, she may not have survived for as many decades as she did.

Olivia Newton-John at the BBC is airing on Saturday, October 15 at 10:15pm on BBC Two.

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