Music

Delta Goodrem on 'angel' healthcare workers and advice Olivia Newton-John shared after cancer diagnosis

At age 18, Delta Goodrem was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, since then she has launched a foundation to make a difference

Delta Goodrem

For record-breaking music star Delta Goodrem, meeting Olivia Newton-John as a child was such a monumental experience that it inspired her to start a singing career. And Newton-John would unexpectedly play another pivotal part in Goodrem’s life. At age 18, following the release of her multi-platinum-selling Innocent Eyes, Goodrem was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, an uncommon cancer that develops in the lymphatic system. Newton-John had been diagnosed with cancer for the first time in 1992 and reassured the younger singer, telling her that one day she’d see the cruel disease as a gift and an opportunity to help others.

“She continued to be a guiding light and still is, from above,” Delta Goodrem tells Big Issue. “It was a matter of her saying, ‘Well, let’s talk about what you’re going through,’ and then me saying, ‘OK, how do I turn this experience into being able to make a difference?'” 

“That’s when I made myself available to help in any way I could,” she continues. “I’d been a great friend of St Vincent’s Hospital for many years and we had done so much work together, until finally, I said, ‘I’d like to make something concrete where I can continue to make a difference in the different facets of philanthropy I support.’ Helping other people was Olivia’s philosophy too. You learn so much when you step into a field, and I went and found some experts that could guide me in that moment.”

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In 2020, Goodrem launched The Delta Goodrem Foundation, where she teamed up with St Vincent’s Hospital, New South Wales – the medical centre that saved her life. Her first initiative was to help advance research using cellular therapy to improve treatment for blood cancers. Goodrem admits that she didn’t set any unrealistic goals to begin with. It was important to study how much was needed to be able to support the scientists here for their research. However, since building and meeting their goals, the foundation has expanded to an area in which Goodrem is passionate, which is patients’ experiences with their nurses.

“We still have a lot of amazing funding going to cellular therapy and towards hopefully one day finding a cure for blood cancers or autoimmune diseases. Also, that means as well as being able to go into research and a lot more clinical and technical chat, I’m like, ‘Let’s go to the human aspect of who is looking after us.’ People always speak about the nurses who are their angels and their heroes. Very early on in my journey, I learned how important and valued the incredible doctors, health professionals, and nurses are in our lives,” she says. 

There has been a lot of talk in recent years regarding sexism and misogyny within women’s healthcare. University College London once detailed that one in five women report sex discrimination and are likely to develop bad mental health after their experience. According to The Washington Post, “An analysis of 981 emergency room visits showed that women with acute abdominal pain were up to 25% less likely than their male counterparts to be treated with powerful opioid painkillers.” Another study showed that middle-aged women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness if they suffer from the same symptoms of heart disease as men. Roger Fillingim, the director of the Pain Research and Intervention Center of Excellence at the University of Florida, revealed that women’s pain has also been seen as an overreaction when, in fact, research has suggested that women are generally more sensitive to pain. 

As far as Delta Goodrem’s personal experiences are concerned, she only has good things to say. “The healthcare professionals who looked after me are angels in this world. I believe they should be treated as such, looked after and supported,” she says. “When it comes to my foundation and the operations, it’s really from a place of how can I be of service and to be able to make a difference, to look after, to be able to shine a light on the people we call upon, the first responders, and the people that we call upon when times get challenging.”

During her cancer journey, Goodrem states that music was crucial and served as a saving grace. “I remember exactly what songs I would listen to on my way to chemo or when I was chilling at home – Calling All Angels by Train, John Mayer’s No Such Thing and Fighter by Christina Aguilera. They were songs that spoke to me. I’ve always enjoyed writing empowered songs because I know that music is such a good way of going to another world.”

Last year, Goodrem proudly staked her independence by founding her own label, ATLED Records. After kickstarting a new chapter last summer with the ‘80s-inspired belter Back To Your Heart, her first release of 2024, Hearts On The Run, confirms Goodrem is still on top form. “It’s a reminder to build up that strength when you think you can’t go any further to break your own boundaries and limits,” she says of the song. “The concept of Hearts On The Run was really about doing it with the people you love.”

During promotion for Hearts On The Run in London, Goodrem took part in a SoulCycle class where she and 60 lucky fans worked out to her music. While filming her lead role in the Netflix rom-com Love Is in the Air last year, Goodrem anticipated the song would be the perfect number to work up a sweat. “In the mornings, I was like, ‘This feels good as a motivation.’ It feels like a community, we’re all on the run together,” she says. Her go-to for keeping fit, however, varies due to her inconsistent schedule. “I do love it when I get to do a yoga class. I just enjoy the variety of it,” Goodrem says. “But just general gym is good, staying fit and active.” 

Other promotion for the song included a performance for BBC Radio 2’s Piano Room, where she reunited with Gary Barlow for a duet of Take That’s No 1 hit Rule The World, accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra. Barlow played a big part in Delta Goodrem’s breakthrough, writing and producing six tracks on her debut album. Two decades later, the chemistry and friendship remain strong, leading many to question whether there have been talks for the pair to return to the studio. 

“Definitely,” she says. “After spending a lot of time on tour, I’m definitely looking forward to finding those windows. I went back into the studio again in January to start writing. It’s very important to have new music and there are a lot of new songs already ready to go. I just want to get back in the studio. My love and my soul is writing songs and bringing them to life. I love so many of the songs that are written. It’s just pulling it all together.”

In the past two years, Goodram has embarked on four different tours across Australia, Europe, and North America. This June, she will make her Mighty Hoopla debut. Staying on top form requires a strict routine, “It’s about having a really healthy lifestyle on tour and just being really conscious of trying to conserve energy,” she says. “It is tough,” Goodrem admits. “You have to make sure you’re completely and utterly conscious of everything and keep listening to your body. If you need to take a little bit more rest during that day, then rest. Drinking loads of water also helps. Sleep is really important too. Luckily for me, I like sleeping on the bus, so it’s fine.”

Foundation-wise, it was recently announced that The Delta Goodrem Foundation Clinical Exchange for Nursing in Cellular Therapies and Stem Cell Transplant is one of the first international exchanges under the American Australian Association. As huge as that is, this is just a stepping stone for how Goodrem plans to evolve the foundation. “We have an amazing setup and programme coming up for International Nurses Day, but that’s just the start of it. I’m having a meeting with the Nurses Association in Australia soon. My first step is to ask what is needed and how we can continue to support it. That conversation is going to tell me a lot of where we go next,” she says. “My favourite thing is to be able to continue to share what I’ve been doing in Australia over in the UK. Hopefully, that results in us finding ways to be able to work on our foundation with the nurses in the UK.”

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