Olivia Newton-John Charms at Moffitt Luncheon

Singer, actress shares stories and vision and even breaks out in song for the cause.

Bring together a world-renowned celebrity, a boyhood crush and some philanthropic spirit, and you can expect a little spontaneity to break out.

When keynote speaker Olivia Newton-John offered the audience of the Sarasota Women’s Cancer Awareness Luncheon to Benefit Moffitt Cancer Center some Q-and-A time, a fan asked her to sing a song, to which the famous singer replied, “For $10,000 for Moffitt, I’ll sing a few bars.”

The audience laughed and applauded, but there were no immediate takers. That is, until Tom Koski of Sarasota Museum of Art stood up and admitted, “I fell in love with you when I first heard you sing, and I’m willing to write the $10,000 check.”

The audience inside roared as Newton-John called him forward and began singing, “Maybe I hang around here, a little more …” causing Koski to melt to the floor as Newton-John erupted into giggles. But she grabbed his hand and sang the verse and chorus to I Honestly Love You, her velvety voice melting the hearts of the rest of the audience as well.

During the group’s 13th annual luncheon, the singer, actress, philanthropist and advocate relayed her personal story of dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in 1992. “Going through the cancer journey was amazing experience. It may sound strange … but without that, I wouldn’t be here today,” she said.

She also shared tales from her career that has spanned five decades and included films like Grease and Xanadu. “I got to dance with Gene Kelly and John Travolta,” she said with a smile.

But her main mission was to bring hope to other cancer survivors. “I’m a thriver, 20 years later,” she told Patch prior to the luncheon. “And you can be, too. There is hope. I believe that in the future, cancer will be a thing of the past. We’re very close to that.”

Newton-John, who serves on the Moffitt Cancer Center National Board of Advisors, counts Moffitt Cancer Center founder H. Lee Moffitt as a friend and mentor and the inspiration behind her efforts to open a cancer hospital and wellness center in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia. She shared details about the center for which she has raised $200 million during the past 10 years. It’s slated to open this summer, once she returns from an Asian tour that she starts later this week.

“I’m still working; I haven’t retired yet,” the 63-year-old said. “I’m still touring and recording and I guess until nobody shows up I’ll still keep doing it.”

Following the keynote speech, Moffitt physicians Patricia L. Judson, MD, Christopher L. Flowers, MD and Nazanin Khakpour, MD, discussed advances in breast and gynecological cancer detection and treatment. Much of the center’s efforts are focusing on promoting self examinations, vaccinations for human papillomavirus (HPV) and customizing cancer care to use less radiation during screenings, less tumor therapy and fewer surgeries, the panel explained.

Moffitt Cancer Center is also the 20th facility in the country to take part in the I-Spy 2 Breast Cancer Trial, which pairs genetic markers and various medications to eventually develop more individualized treatment.

With more exact therapies, which the trial is designed to define, Dr. Flowers said, “You’re going to see more and more women who are going to survive.”


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