Fortune hasn’t always smiled on Vanna White. Shortly after she moved from Myrtle Beach, S.C., to Hollywood seeking stardom in 1980, her beloved mother, Joan Rosich, died of cancer. “That was devastating to me,” Vanna exclusively recalled to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “But it gave me the strength to prove that her support was going to help me achieve my goal.”

She soon landed a job as the letter-turner on Wheel of Fortune, and more than 35 years later, she remains a pop icon in that role. “You turn on the TV today, and everything is so negative,” Vanna said. “It’s nice to have 30 minutes of fun with Wheel of Fortune.”

Vanna, 61, has suffered more than her share of losses over the years. In 1986, her fiancé, soap-opera actor John Gibson, died in a plane crash. “I was at the pinnacle of Vanna-mania when this tragically happened,” she remembered. “The support I got from my fans was so tremendous that it made me feel like I wasn’t alone.”

Then in 1992, Vanna — who was married to George Santo Pietro at the time — suffered a miscarriage after announcing her pregnancy on an episode of Wheel. “I was so ready to be a mother,” she said. “I don’t know how you describe that loss.”

It’s at moments like these that Vanna remembers the greatest advice her mother gave her. “Never give up, no matter what,” she shared. “Follow your heart and follow your dream. And that’s what I did.” Vanna went on to have son Niko in 1994 and daughter Gigi three years later. “When they were younger, they were able to travel with me or come to the show,” she said. “I thank God every day for all that He has given me.”

The ever-grateful Vanna has always made a point to give back, most recently donating $2 million from the sales of her Lion Brand Yarn line to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. “I remember when I first started 10 years ago, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we reached a million dollars?'” she said. “And  here we are at $2 million!” A lifelong knitter and crocheter, Vanna often makes blankets for the babies of Wheel of Fortune crew members. “I love it, and it’s therapeutic,” she said of her hobby. “I’ve always got a project I’m working on.”

Now that her kids are grown and she’s got an empty nest, Vanna has more time to focus on herself — and her relationship with John Donaldson, her boyfriend since 2013. “Will we get married? I don’t know,” she revealed. “At this point, I feel like I am married. Everything is so good, there’s no reason to change anything.” That sentiment goes for her work on Wheel as well. “I love my job, and I can’t imagine not doing it.” she said. (In fact, Vanna and Pat Sajak just renewed their contracts through 2022).

Through all of life’s ups and downs, it seems Vanna has finally solved the puzzle of how to stay strong and find lasting happiness. “We’re faced with a lot of positives and negatives, and we have to accept them and do whatever we can to get through it,” she said. “It’s like if you break an arm — it takes time, but it does heal.” In the end, “Life is not perfect — just try to make the best of it,” Vanna said. “Be strong, be kind to people, and be happy.”

For more on Vanna White, pick up the new issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and sign up for our newsletter!