‘Motown’ star on health crusade

‘Motown’ star on health crusade
Vinette K. Pryce (left) and Valisia LeKae.
Photo by Don Thomas

“Motown: The Musical” features a star-studded cast of thespians who nightly, nostalgically reflect on the heydays of the most successful record label out of the motor city AKA known as Detroit. With Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops and Temptations dominant in the Broadway production, no character leaves as indelible an impression on audiences as the Diana Ross character portrayed by Valisia LeKae.

Nominated for a 2013 Tony Award in the Best Actress in a Musical category, LeKae was acclaimed for channeling the superstar who rose from being one of a trio known as the Supremes to overwhelm the entire music industry when she became a singular sensation.

LeKae’s gestures, singing and voice epitomized the star regarded as The Boss. Through weekly matinees and nightly performances she charmed audiences who packed into the Lunt Fontanne Theater to capture and reprise the nostalgia that made Berry Gordy a mogul. Towards the end of last year, LeKae withdrew from her routine. Persistent stomach pains forced her to leave the show. After diagnosis at Mount Sinai Hospital by Dr. David Fishman, professor and fellowship director in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Medicine she was told her pain was caused by carcinoma of the ovary. Dr. Fishman is also the Director of the National Ovarian Cancer Early Detection Program at the same facility.

In his position he immediately scheduled surgery for Dec. 19.

The 34-year-old actress under-went surgery (unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy) for clear cell carcinoma of the ovary.

Better known as ovarian cancer, the disease has been defined as the fourth leading cause of death in American women. Approximately 22,000 women are diagnosed annually and 14,000 die from the disease.

“Her cancer is associated with genetic inherited cancers- yet she has no family history. She required an operation and will need six rounds of chemotherapy,” Dr. Fishman said.

“The surgery does not require losing her uterus or other ovary as she desires option for future fertility. Her cancer can be very aggressive and survival can range from 40-90 percent.”

Since the surgery, LeKae has been on a crusade to bring awareness to African-American women and all young women about ovarian cancer. Already she has mounted a new stage and is informing women that “ovarian cancer incidence for African American women is 74 percent of the rate for white women according to the American Cancer Society. Death rates from ovarian cancer are 80 percent of the rate for 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. 2013 has been full of blessings, from being nominated for a prestigious Tony Award for my portrayal of Diana Ross in Motown The Musical as well as many other accolades. God has given me another role to play and like all my previous roles, I plan to go all in, only this time I plan to Win!” actress Lekae said. She is also spreading the news that:

• Approximately 75 percent of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed with late stage disease and only 15-40 percent of diagnosed patients survive five years after initial aggressive cyto-reductive surgery and years of multi-agent chemotherapy.

Almost 90 percent of women diagnosed with the disease confined to the ovary (stage I), have an overall five-year survival. They also require less surgical intervention, may not require chemotherapy and have a significantly improved quality of life.

Jan. 23 Krystal Joy Brown assumed the role of Diana Ross in the musical.

And although Lekae is no longer portraying the role that launched her among celebrated Motown stars, she is now on another galaxy where the applause resonates with saving lives.

The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition recently contacted LeKae informing her that she is invited to speak at their annual conference in March.

In addition, the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance will honor LeKae in May at their Gala.

For more information on relevant patient care check www.mountsinai.org/patient-care/service

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