Olivia Newton-John & other celebrity breast cancer warriors


  • TV
  • Friday, 25 Oct 2019

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In conjunction with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we look at four celebrities who went public about their breast cancer battle and inspired many.

Olivia Newton-John

Olivia Newton-John is staying strong as she battles cancer for the third time.

The singer-actress first battled breast cancer at age 43 in 1992.

In an interview with CBS This Morning, the 71-year-old recalled that the day she received her first cancer diagnosis was the same day her father died.

“I had a daughter to care about and that was my focus. I just thought I had to get through this for her,” she talked about going through that difficult moment.

After chemotherapy, Newton-John was told her cancer went into remission.

But in 2013, the cancer returned and had spread to her shoulder. Two years ago, she received news the cancer is back once again, with a tumour at the base of her spine.

“Really bad,” she describes the pain. “Crying type of pain.”

Newton-John remains positive through it all, saying: “I know what the statistics are but I put them away. I’m gonna live longer than that. I’ve made that decision.”

The Grease star shared her family has been her pillar of support. Her daughter, Chloe, in particular, identifies with her journey and the two have been walking hand-in-hand.

“She said to me, ‘Mum, different people have different kinds of cancer. And my cancer is my addictions, my problems, my anorexia.’

"So she feels like she’s going through it with me and healing herself at the same time. So it’s been a wonderful period of growth for us both.”

Over the years, Newton-John has become an activist and philanthropist, helping to fight cancer by establishing a cancer treatment centre and a medical research centre.

Dame Maggie Smith

Dame Maggie Smith was undergoing chemotherapy when she was filming the sixth Harry Potter film.

Maggie Smith
Maggie Smith battled cancer while filming the sixth Harry Potter film. Photo: AFP

In a 2009 interview with The Times, Smith - who was 74 then - revealed she first discovered a lump which led to her cancer diagnosis.

“I had been feeling a little rum. I didn’t think it was anything serious because years ago I felt a lump and it was benign. I assumed this would be too,” the two-time Oscar winner said.

“It kind of takes the wind out of your sails, and I don’t know what the future holds, if anything.”

She also detailed her experience with chemotherapy: “You feel horribly sick. I was holding on to railings, thinking ‘I can’t do this.’”

But Smith pressed on. Not only did she undergo treatment, she played Professor Minerva McGonagall in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince during that time. "I was hairless. I had no problem getting the wig on. I was like a boiled egg."

Smith reflected: "The last couple of years have been a write-off, though I’m beginning to feel like a person now. My energy is coming back. S*** happens. I ought to pull myself together a bit.”

After her recovery, the actress, did not slow down one bit on her acting. She went on to star in the seventh Harry Potter film and six seasons of period drama Downton Abbey.

The latter saw Smith embraced as one of the show’s most beloved characters, playing the sassy, headstrong Dowager Countess.

Now 84, she reprises her role on this year’s Downton Abbey film adaptation.

Kylie Minogue
Kylie Minogue was originally given the all-clear only to find out on her second check-up she did indeed have breast cancer. Photo: Reuters

Kylie Minogue

When Australian pop star Kylie Minogue first got herself checked for breast cancer back in 2005, she was given the all-clear.

A few weeks later, Minogue, who was 36 then, got herself checked again and was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“This is an opportunity for me to say something that I have not said before. I was misdiagnosed initially,” she shared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2008.

“I did my Showgirl tour having been for a check and was told everything was fine.”

The Can’t Get You Out Of My Head hitmaker then told the audience: “You follow your intuition. If you have any doubt, go back again.”

After her recovery, Minogue felt a lot of anger at having cancer and channelled them to her 2007 album, X.

"I went into the recording process running and screaming. I was a tornado of energy,” she told USA Today.

“Looking back, I think there was a lot of frustration, anger, fear and excitement. I had to acknowledge all those emotions. I'm just so thankful to have an outlet to express myself.”

The Telegraph reported in a 2008 article that there was a spike in women getting breast cancer screening after Minogue spoke publicly about her journey with the disease, according to a study by the University Of Melbourne.

Giuliana Rancic

“I couldn't believe it - 36 years old, no family history? I couldn't believe it,” said entertainment journalist Giuliana Rancic when she first went public with her cancer journey on the Today show back in 2011.

Giuliana Rancic
Giuliana Rancic was told to get herself checked for breast cancer as a pre-requisite for her fertility treatment. Photo: AP

The E! News anchor was preparing to undergo fertility treatment when her doctor encouraged her to get a mammogram, as cancer cells, if present in the body, accelerate during pregnancy.

"I wasn't prepared to get a mammogram until I was 40 years old, like I'd been told. I never in my wildest dreams expected anything to be wrong."

Within the same year, she underwent a lumpectomy. As it was unsuccessful in removing all the cancer cells, she later opted for a double mastectomy.

Rancic, now 45, is cancer-free.

“I am seven years cancer free, which is wonderful, but I have to say that it’s interesting being seven years out - it’s a very different feeling than those first 5 years,” she reflects on reaching the milestone to People earlier this year.

“Those first five years, I was just thinking about breast cancer - I was consumed by it. I was probably thinking about it ... it felt like every minute of the day.”

Rancic is now setting her mind towards helping others through various cancer initiatives including being a spokesperson for Not One Type, a campaign which helps educate people that there are different types of breast cancer and treatments to tailor to each type.

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