NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Her dream role on Broadway was soon followed by a nightmarish diagnosis.
But, as CBS 2’s Dana Tyler, Valisia LeKae is now using her battle with cancer to help others.
LeKae had earned her big break, playing the role of Diana Ross in “Motown the Musical.”
“I’ve been waiting in the wings all this time, and this was my time and a fantastic role of the most glamorous woman there is,” the Tony Award nomineee said.
But in September, LeKae’s gynecologist told her a 2-centimeter ovarian cyst they’d been monitoring had grown. Her ovary was four times the size it should have been.
The cyst, thought to the common disorder endometriosis, was removed. LeKae was planning a January return to the stage when her doctor revealed her pathology results.
“He said, ‘You have ovarian cancer,'” she said. “And I said, ‘Are you sure?'”
The American Cancer Society says ovarian cancer mainly develops in post-menopausal women — about half are over 63. And it’s more common in white women than in African-Americans. LeKae is 34 years old and black.
“I was panicking because I felt like, where do I fit in?” LeKae said. “I didn’t have any family history or any known family history of this disease, and it just took me by surprise.”
LeKae soon channeled that surprise into action, including video blogs to help herself and other unsuspecting women.
“I felt compelled to talk about it, especially to young women of color who may or may not be as proactive about getting their checkups,” LeKae said. “So I felt like I had to do something.”
LeKae had laproscopic surgery Dec. 19. Her fight, however, is not over.
“The clear-cell cancer that she has is an aggressive cancer,” said LeKae’s doctor, Mount Sinai School of Medicine gynecologic oncologist David Fishman. “So she’d be Stage 1 aggressive cancer, so even those patients have excellent survival.” But because it’s an aggressive cancer, and the survival rate is poor for 75 percent of advanced-stage patients, Fishman recommended chemotherapy, which LeKae began last week.
Fishman, who heads the National Ovarion Cancer Early Detection Program, urges women with more than seven days of abdominal discomfort to see a doctor.
“Miss LeKae is awesome and she’s a hero, and she can be advocate for the people saying, ‘If I don’t feel right, here’s what I need to do,'” Fishman said.
LeKae said she is empowered to perservere by her faith and support from her partner, family and the Broadway community.
“Throughout all of this, cancer may take a couple of things away from me, but it’s not going to take my joy,” she said.
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