There, but for the Grace of …


Like many others, I’m sure, I was saddened to hear of Olivia Newton-John’s recurrence last month. For those that don’t know, Olivia Newton-John is an Australian entertainer who became world famous for playing Sandy in the movie, Grease.

Cancer seems to have it in for Australian singers. There’s Kylie, Olivia and Delta Goodrem, and whenever I hear of one of these ladies it makes me very sad for all the other people battling cancer without the world cheering on, whereas really, anyone battling cancer deserves a little mention in the paper, I think.

In ONJs case, her cancer, which is hormone-receptor positive, was diagnosed 25 years ago; 1992. After her diagnosis she established the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre. Unfortunately for ONJ, it wasn’t realised until 1998 that tamoxifen was effective in the treatment of cancer in pre-menopausal women, so, despite being HR+ve, she probably wouldn’t have received the drug. None the less, having a recurrence after 25 years is just incredibly bad luck. The graph of survival rates for breast cancer flattens out after about 10 years, meaning that after 10 years from diagnosis you have a good reason to breathe more easily, and can reasonably expect not to have a recurrence in another 15 years time.


Nowadays, of course, we not only get tamoxifen when we’re pre-menopausal, but we take it for 10 years.


Olivia Newton-John is receiving proton therapy, a new form of radiation that can target tumours more accurately than x-ray radiation, making it a good choice for tumours in the pelvic region where x-rays bouncing around can do a lot of damage to sensitive organs. Just last month, funding for a proton beam facility in my state, South Australia, was announced, which will be the first such facility in the southern hemisphere. (And may I just say… thank goodness for Nick Xenophon, an independent senator in who represents our state and lobbied for the facility).

Dr. Virginia Borges at University of Colorado Health Science Center says:

You just need to stay well enough for long enough for science to catch up to meet your need for a therapy that can keep the cancer in check.

Science is running very, very fast right now.

So let’s hope that science has run fast enough for ONJ’s sake, and for all of us.


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