Valisia LeKae, who earned a 2013 Tony Award nomination for playing music icon Diana Ross in Motown The Musical, is battling ovarian cancer. The actress revealed exclusively to Broadway.com that she found out on December 2, after receiving pathology results from a cyst that was removed from her ovary on November 22. She will undergo surgery on December 19 and start chemotherapy treatment soon after.
“I just froze when my doctor told me my diagnosis,” LeKae told Broadway.com. “It was the last thing on my radar.”
LeKae decided to speak out about her condition when she learned that ovarian cancer is more common in older women. About half of those diagnosed are 63 or older, according to cancer.org, and the majority are white women. "As a 34-year-old African-American woman, I feel that it is important that I share my story in order to educate and encourage others about this disease and the fight against it,” LeKae said.
LeKae added that there is no history of the disease in her family. “I feel scared and want people to realize that it can happen to you," LeKae said about why she reached out to tell others her story. "Don’t be afraid to see your doctor. It’s better to fight than to fear.”
After the whirlwind of rehearsals, opening night and the Tonys, LeKae requested a vacation from Motown over the summer, departing the show for a six-week run in early August. “I was spent,” she said. “I don’t know if my body had started to react to the cancer or the cyst; I was just tired.” At a fall check-up with her doctor, LeKae learned that a small cyst that was first discovered a few years ago had tripled in size over the past year and had to be removed. A few weeks after returning to Motown, she left the show again in October to prepare for surgery, with plans to return in January. “But when I found this out,” she said. “My life sort of changed.”
LeKae had an emotional meeting with her Motown family to break the news. “They really are my family,” she said. “I wanted to be able to share it with them and to say, ‘I’m doing OK. I’m not falling apart. I’m here to fight.’ Their love and encouragement is one of the things getting me through this. I cannot tell you how amazing they are. Everyone has really stepped up for me.”
“I want to thank the Broadway community for this past year,” she said. “And thank everyone for loving the show and supporting us. We’ve all had a wonderful year, and I truly believe that next year will only be better for me.”
LeKae vows to be cancer-free in 2014. “That’s my main priority. And getting more people to go out and get themselves checked. If five more people go see their doctor because of this, I’ve done my job. Anything else that happens is just icing on the cake.”