At an annual exam last spring, Broadway star Mandy Gonzalez (Hamilton, In The Heights) was asked a question many women have heard: Now that she was in her 40s, would she like to start getting annual mammograms?
Mandy, then 41, didn’t have a family history of breast cancer, but she thought of her two sisters in law who had been diagnosed. “I definitely want a mammogram,” she told her doctor. Screenings revealed a cyst and a directive to come back again in six months.
Life went on: Mandy continued performing as Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton and raising her daughter with her husband. Six months later, she had a nagging feeling and returned to the doctor. An ultrasound led to the discovery of a tumor behind the cyst, which a biopsy revealed was cancerous.
“I got the call and everything went blank,” she said.
Mandy was diagnosed with stage I invasive ductal carcinoma. She scheduled a lumpectomy with enough time so she could still sing with the Philly POPS orchestra at Christmas.
“To be a soloist with an orchestra is such a huge deal,” she said. “I told my doctor, ‘I’m going to do this job.’ And I did. I couldn’t raise my right arm at all, but nobody knew.”
When she started chemotherapy, Mandy was determined to continue performing in Hamilton—not telling anyone but her stage manager—before her body eventually “started to say no.” Opening up and sharing her secret with the whole company was cathartic.
“I got so much love and support from everybody,” she said.
In February, as Mandy was going in for chemotherapy, she began to hear chatter among staff and patients at the hospital about COVID-19. Everyone was wondering: Should we be wearing masks? Are there going to be new protocols?
Mandy would soon give her last performance before Broadway shut down and begin getting chemotherapy and radiation at her hospital’s location closer to her home in New Jersey. On her last treatment day, she masked up and headed in alone while her husband and daughter sat in the car with homemade signs.
“It was such a roller coaster, but my doctors and nurses and family were with me every step,” she said. “I feel very lucky for that.”
Mandy is also grateful for research. She thinks of her aunt who was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer and died at 49.
“She was first-generation Mexican American and had a hard time trusting doctors,” Mandy said. “By the time she was diagnosed, they couldn’t do anything. She was sent home with no hope.”
Mandy credits research for giving her the hope her aunt didn’t have—hope that she could be there for her family and keep performing.
“Research has given me a second chance,” she said. “As much as I loved the first part of my life, I want to make this second part happier for my family and myself.”
Read more personal stories about breast cancer from BCRF’s Research Is The Reason campaign here.
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