Book excerpt: Olivia Newton-John's "Don't Stop Believin'"

In her new memoir, "Don't Stop Believin'" (published by Simon & Schuster, a division of CBS), singer Olivia Newton-John writes about a compassionate life touched by both artistic success and personal illness. She has been an inspiration to millions as she advocates for health and wellness, and is founder of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre, in Melbourne, Australia.

In the prologue of her book, the singer relates her ethos of "the show must go on," even while racked with pain from a cancer diagnosis. Read the excerpt below, and don't miss Gayle King's interview with Olivia Newton-John on "CBS Sunday Morning" September 22!


PROLOGUE

Don't stop believin', you'll get by
Bad days will hurry by.

May 30, 2017

My favorite time of day is "magic hour," when the sun takes a dive behind the craggy mountain ranges and the sky is painted a stunning purple-pink. I'm sitting during magic hour right now on a weathered stone bench, allowing the day to wash over me, surrounding myself with love and light.

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Simon & Schuster

I smell the early-summer roses and smile as our energetic German shepherd, Raven, brings me her ball for yet another toss. My wonderful husband, John, should be pulling up in the driveway any moment. It's a beautiful life and remains so, even though I told the world a few hours ago that my cancer has returned.

Yesterday I went in to be measured. When you have photon radiation therapy, you must be in exactly the same position every single time, so they give you small dot tattoos to make sure your body is lined up properly in the machine.

"I guess this will be the fun part," I told the technician as he poked a small, needlelike pen through flesh to mark my hips.

When I saw that what he'd created was no more than tiny circles, I asked, "Can't you give me something a little more interesting?"

John and I have matching tattoos on our left ankles—a spiral pattern we designed when we were in Australia on our fifth anniversary.

"Hey, I thought I was only going to get a tattoo once in my life!" I joked. "Not fair to John now that I'll have an extra one."

We had a good laugh. Being positive isn't always easy, but we always have that choice.

This is my third journey with cancer, which might come as a surprise. The previous one was five years ago and I kept it private, and luckily it remained so, which isn't always easy when you live your life in public.

In May 2013, John and I were rear-ended in our Prius on Highway 101 in heavy Los Angeles traffic. We were on the way to my sister Rona's house. My niece Tottie and her daughter, Layla, had been visiting us and they were in the back seat. Raven, our new puppy, was in a crate in the back. That poor baby was surrounded by shattered glass, we were hit that hard. For months afterward, Raven was nervous every time I even looked at the car.

The accident was only part of what was a tough time for our family. My beloved Rona was very ill and died a short time later, on May 24, of a brain tumor. And soon my own health would be called into question.

The day we had the accident, the seat belt hit me very hard in my right shoulder. It wasn't long before I noticed a lump had formed there.

I ended up at Rona's local doctor, who wasn't overly concerned.

"It's most likely from the accident," she said. She did an X-ray but didn't find anything.

As time passed, I couldn't lift my arm easily, which was chalked up to a slight fracture. But why wouldn't the pain subside? In my gut, I knew it wasn't that simple and kept asking and digging. It was my body, and my instincts told me to find the real answer.

I insisted on additional testing and found that the bump was actually a recurrence of my breast cancer.

My immediate healing plan was immune-boosting IVs at a clinic in Georgia where they help people deal with illness in a natural way without prescription drugs. I did this along with continuing on a healthy diet that included many of my husband's Amazonian herb formulas. And I also consulted with my oncology team at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre in Melbourne. With their advice, including taking an antiestrogenic pill, I felt I was on the right track.

I didn't tell my family or anyone else at the time, except for John, of course. There was too much going on with the loss of my sister.

When I went back for a second CAT scan, the tumor had reduced and we decided to keep an eye on it.

Life went on.


Three years ago, I was playing tennis at my close friend Pat Farrar's birthday party. I hadn't played in a while and was out on the court for three hours of nonstop fun. I had a blast, sat down for lunch, and absolutely couldn't get up afterward. This could've been because of very sore muscles since I hadn't played in months, but I had trouble even standing and wobbled when I forced myself upright. What followed were months and months of excruciating, sleep-depriving, crying-out- loud pain.

Night after night, I hobbled onstage in Las Vegas, where I was doing a residency at the famed Flamingo Hotel. The crippling back pain would flare up at the worst times but would occasionally die down—thank goodness! During a good period, a friend of mine, Joanne, who is a great tennis player, said the magic words.

"Come on over, Liv. We'll have a gentle hit."

I was on the court for about half an hour before a sciatic attack had me seeing stars. Despite the pain, I refused to cancel any of my shows because of a lifelong discipline instilled in me at the tender age of fifteen.

No matter what—the show must go on!

But would I be able to go on? Some nights, after the last curtain call, I would limp backstage and gingerly lie down on my dressing-room floor, crying in agony. It felt like I was being tortured with hot pokers that were being stabbed into my side, causing searing pain to jolt up and down my left leg.

In my prone position backstage with tears running through my makeup, I wasn't sure how I would ever get up. But . . . the show must go on, and it isn't over. I still had to do my fan meet and greet, with all the proceeds going to my Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre. I only allowed myself exactly five minutes to rest and then my husband would pull me to my feet.

My checklist was as follows:

1. Wipe away the tears.
2. Fix my face. 
3. Go back out there and do the meet and greet backstage for the fans.

These lovely people had waited sometimes an entire year just to say hello, and I wouldn't let them down. Somehow, I held it all together while I smiled and took a few pictures. It was the least I could do for this kind of loyalty.

My last show of 2017 before my diagnosis was a concert for those who served in the military and had been awarded a Purple Heart for their bravery. I had my Liv On¸ collaborators and dear friends Amy Sky and Beth Nielsen Chapman by my side and we honored, among others, my father-in- law, Tom, a Purple Heart recipient.

It should have been a beautiful night that I would never forget— and it was. The pain was cruel, relentless, and agonizing, and I found it almost impossible to walk. This was no longer about just pulling myself up but facing the fact that I could not do it any longer.

The next day, John's niece Corrine, an upper cervical and spinal expert, did a thermogram of my whole body at her clinic. It showed some hot spots in my sacral area, and she suggested a seated MRI. This revealed something rather suspicious pressing on the nerves in my sacrum. No one recommended a biopsy because of the sensitivity of the area. But in my heart, I knew.

Something wasn't right.

I believe it's crucial to always listen to your body and trust your instincts. I can't say this enough: no one knows your body like you do.

Corinne and John insisted that I give this my immediate attention, so I postponed the rest of my tour, which was very difficult for me because of that work ethic I mentioned earlier. But now I had no choice. I drove to the clinic in Georgia for two weeks of diagnostics and natural IV therapies. Within a week, my pain level went from a ten to a one, which was very encouraging.

And then came the news.

My ONCOblot test was in. It showed breast cancer—again.

This time it had metastasized into my sacrum.

They had found a mass.

I put out a press release because I wanted my fans to hear this from me and not the rumor mill.

For Immediate Release
OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN POSTPONES JUNE CONCERT DATES
May 30, 2017—Las Vegas, NV—Olivia Newton-John is reluctantly postponing her June U.S. and Canadian concert tour dates. The back pain that initially caused her to postpone the first half of her concert tour has turned out to be breast cancer that has metastasized to the sacrum.

That day, after those words were released to the world, I sat on my stone bench as the sun sank behind the mountains. In the hours that followed, the outpouring of goodwill touched my heart in ways that I will never forget. There were phone calls, emails, messages, and even flowers wishing me well.

I sat there knowing that this was going to be another challenging journey, but I would never stop believing that I would be okay. I knew I had so much living and loving to do.

I sat, visualizing myself many years in the future, happy and healthy, and I began reflecting on my incredible life.

       
Excerpt from "Don't Stop Believin': A Memoir" by Olivia Newton-John, copyright 2019 by Olivia Newton-John. Published by Simon & Schuster, a division of CBS. All rights reserved.

      
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