She starred at Diana Ross in "Motown: The Musical," but now, Valisia LeKae has taken on a different, unexpected role as an advocate, bringing a new face to those with ovarian cancer. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
Valisia LeKae was starring as Diana Ross in Broadway's "Motown: The Musical" when an annual trip to the gynecologist and the discovery of a rapidly growing ovarian cyst put the breaks on her skyrocketing career.
"It was shocking because we went into the surgery knowing it was benign, knowing I would be fine, knowing I would be returning to work," she says.
It turns out that the cyst contained an aggressive cancer.
Once discovered, Lekae went to see gynecologic oncologist David Fishman at Mt. Sinai Hospital. He removed her right ovary and Fallopian tube.
"The fact that the mass was eight centimeters and hadn't spread any place was act of God," Fishman says.
"I was one of the lucky ones," LeKae says.
LeKae recently began what will be 18 weeks of chemotherapy treatment. It's a journey she chooses to go through publicly because she wants people to be aware that ovarian cancer can happen to any woman.
"The statistics kept saying, OK, it's post-menopausal white women, 57 years old, 22,000 every year diagnosed, 15,000 die from it," she says. "There was a little fire boiling up in me because none of that was me."
There was also no way for LeKae to proactively catch the cancer in its early stage. It's been the focus of Fishman's research for the past 20 years.
"We have not achieved our goal of finding a test that allows us to detect ovarian cancer before it's spread," he says.
Fishman hopes that through Lekae's bravery and that of others willing to share their stories, awareness will grow and funding for research will follow.
"The federal government only has a limited amount of money, but it would be awfully nice if individuals who have the resources, instead of buying a Monet, would use the resources to help cure a cancer," he says.
For now, Lekae is finding strength in her faith and through the support of family and friends, seeing this chapter of her life as just another role.
"I grew up entertaining people and wanting my whole life to inspire people and to be of encouragement to people," she says. "This is just one facet of what I've been doing my whole life."