Don’t call Olivia Newton-John a survivor. Instead, consider her a two-time cancer thriver.
“A survivor sounds like someone clinging onto a lifeboat, to me. A thriver is someone that's already off the boat and on land,” the actress and pop music icon told TODAY in an exclusive interview.
In May, Newton-John postponed her North American tour after learning the breast cancer she thought she had beat 25 years earlier had returned. This time, the cancer had spread to her lower back.
She initially thought she had sciatica.
"It was painful to walk, so I thought that it was that," she told TODAY’s Natalie Morales while the two visited the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia.
"I was still performing. I would kind of a grit my teeth and take a couple of aspirin and go on."
When she learned her cancer had returned, she was caught off guard "because in my mind, it was over. I'd finished with it," she said.
Newton-John underwent radiation on her sacrum, where the cancer had metastasized. By that point, the pain was so debilitating she could barely walk.
She ended up combining traditional treatments with natural remedies, including herbal supplements and meditation — and medicinal cannabis, which she credits for getting her back on her feet.
“People have this vision from the '60s of people just sitting around, you know, getting stoned. It's not about that. This plant is a healing plant,” she said.
"Because I think we need to change the vision of what it is. Because it helped me greatly. And it helps with pain and inflammation."
Now the beloved “Grease” star wants to return to helping others. She’s raising money to keep her wellness center open and to fund research for clinical trials on potentially breakthrough cancer treatments.
She also has an unwavering positive outlook.
"I'm not going to be one of those statistics. I'm going to be fine. And I will probably deal with this in my life as an ongoing thing," she said. "I think that you can live with cancer like you can live with other things — if you take care of yourself."
Newton-John said her fight with cancer this time around has helped her learn more about herself.
“It taught me I'm stronger than I thought I was. I think most people that go through cancer find that out about themselves,” she said.
"Of course, you have fear. That's only natural. But my positive outlook is a decision. I'd be lying if I didn't say I have dark moments and negative moments. I'm human. But on a general scale, I tend to see the glass as half full."