After cancer diagnosis, B’way star fights back
NEW YORK — Valisia LeKae has a New Year’s resolution that has nothing to do with weight loss, money or watching less TV.
“I will be cancer-free in 2014,” she’s vowed.
The budding Broadway star who played Diana Ross in the hit show Motown the Musical was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in late 2013. She went through surgery and this week endured the first of six planned rounds of chemotherapy.
The 34-year-old who was raised in Memphis, Tennessee, and attended the University of Tennessee had to pull out of the musical and refocus her life on beating the disease, something she’s done with grace and wit.
“I lost my ovary. I don’t need to lose my sense of humour,” she says. “I have learned to really surrender. Cancer was not something that I was expecting in my life.”
About 220,000 new cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed each year around the world, and it causes 140,000 deaths. In the United States, the National Cancer Institute estimates 22,000 new cases and 15,000 deaths each year.
LeKae was stunned by the diagnosis after undergoing surgery to remove what was believed to be a benign cyst from one of her ovaries in November. Ovarian cancer is more common among white, post-menopausal women, and LeKae says she has no family history of the disease.
“Cancer does not discriminate, regardless of if it’s in your family or not,” she says. “Cancer doesn’t care if you’re starring on Broadway or in a movie. Or that you’re Angelina Jolie.”
She’s taken her battle public in the hope that her diagnosis can help others. LeKae urges women to see their doctor regularly. She wants them to point out things that feel abnormal and to seek out second opinions.
“Even if I can change one person’s mind about either going in for their checkups — male and female — that is a huge thing,” she says. “It’s very important for people of all ages to be proactive. You’re never too young to have a physical. It’s better to fight than have fear.”
Cancer came just as LeKae, who had been an understudy or swing in four other Broadway shows, was making her début as a leading lady and had earned a Tony Award nomination. She’s become a vegan who concentrates on her white blood count and endures a long list of doctor visits.
“I think God has given me a different role to play at this time,” she says with a laugh.
“This has sort of become the new movie that I’m in. God being the producer and my doctors being the directors. And I am the star of the show.”
A classic hard-charging, highly organized type-A, LeKae has had to switch gears.
“I’m finding strength in allowing others to help me. I’m so not used to it. I do not like bothering people,” she says. “But I know there will be days where I won’t be able to get up and make myself a meal and I’m going to have to learn to ask for help. I’m finding great peace in that, knowing that I don’t have to carry this burden alone.”