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Battling breast cancer, Olivia Newton-John was a fierce advocate for research, early detection

Olivia Newton-John's struggle with breast cancer made her an inspiration to millions
Olivia Newton-John's struggle with breast cancer made her an inspiration to millions 02:29

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- Fans around the world were mourning he death of Grammy-winning singer, actress and cancer advocate Olivia Newton, on Monday. After a long battle with cancer, she died at her ranch in Southern California. She was 73.

Newton-John is being remembered as an outspoken supporter of cancer research, education and early detection of the disease that claimed her life.

"She was remarkable about being open and direct about it. And I think she set an example for other women with breast cancer," says Dr. David Spiegel who conducted pioneering, early research on the power of support groups for patients battling cancer.

Dr. Spiegel, who never treated the actress directly, says he was nonetheless impressed with her candor and openness concerning her diagnosis which helped to lessen the stigma that shrouded the disease.

"There was a time when women felt ashamed of it and hid it from the world. It was almost like someone was wrong with them as people," he said.

Newton-John first won hearts, starring with John Travolta in 'Grease' in 1978, and was at the height of her popularity as a singer and actress when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. The cancer returned most recently in 2017.

Newton-John never lost her sense of optimism which was on display during an interview with Gayle King for CBS Sunday Morning.

"I'm chosen that path to be grateful and to feel good about things because the other side is not so good," the singer said.

Newton-John managed to hold cancer at bay for 30 years and filled the time between her initial diagnosis and eventual death with a fierce determination, grace and a joy of living.

"It became something not to be hidden or ashamed of but something she was dealing with. And she was not going to stop living her life just because she had a serious medical diagnosis," Dr. Spiegel said.

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