‘It Was A Real Shock To Get It:’ How Broadway Star Krysta Rodriguez, 38, Kept Working Through Breast Cancer Treatment

In a recent interview with the New York Post, Krysta revealed she worked various jobs as she fought breast cancer. She said “Jobs actually started coming to me. I didn’t mean to work, and I ended up getting two of my favorite jobs, so that was really lovely.”

Krysta recounted to the New York Daily News how she felt young when she was diagnosed, noting she had no family history of breast cancer and no genetic mutation. “It was a real shock to get it, and at the time I felt like I was alone,” she said. “I really think the exact words out of my mouth were ‘I must be the only 30-year-old that’s ever had breast cancer.’”

Krysta rodriguez breast cancer
Krysta is set to host a benefit concert in New York City to raise awareness for nonprofit ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis (@krysta_rod/Instagram)

“When I put my story out there, I started to hear from so many people who are going through it and people who came out of the woodwork to mentor me,” she added. “It was so important for me to have somebody that had been through it that could tell me what to worry about, what not to worry about, because your brain is going a mile a minute, and you’re making so many decisions all the time.”

In regards to the nonprofit event she is hosting, which will be live-streamed at midtown summer club 54 Below at 8 p.m., Krysta told the Post. “It’s going to be a night of some favorites of mine from shows that I’ve been in, some Liza stuff, some Broadway stuff, a couple of jazz tunes, some mashups. We’re going to address my journey with cancer, but we’re also going to have a fun and uplifting night of entertainment.”

Related: ‘Think of It Like a Chess Game,’ Says Breast Cancer Survivor Who Is Thriving After Cancer & Has This Advice For Feeling Good After Surgery

Krysta rodriguez breast cancer
Krysta Rodriguez was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30. Now, a 38-year-old cancer survivor, she is spreading awareness for nonprofit ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis (@krysta_rod/Instagram)

The Monday night event comes as Krysta has returned to Broadway. The actress last performed on the great white way in “Spring Awakening” in 2015. She joined the cast of “Into the Woods” earlier this month.

Related: ‘I Went Into Complete Shock!’ Woman, 30, Leading Glamorous Life As A Super Yacht’s Chef Has Life ‘Turned Upside Down’ By Cancer

“It feels great … I have waited a long time because I wanted to [have] the right project and this just felt like the right project. So it really does feel really exciting to join the cast,” she told the Daily News.

Breast Cancer in Women Younger than 45

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC also reports that breast cancer mostly occurs among older women, but it’s possible for women under the age of 45 — like Krysta — to be diagnosed with this type of cancer. In fact, about 9% of all new breast cancer cases in the U.S. are found in women younger than 45.

But in some ways, a diagnosis for a younger woman can often be even more devastating, Dr. Ann Partridge, an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview.

Aggressive Breast Cancer in Young Women

This is because the cancer is likely to be a more aggressive form of the disease and also at an advanced stage, as screening for younger women is not standard.

It’s important to know it is possible for young women to get breast cancer, so listening to your body when something doesn’t feel right is vitally important.

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Recovering from Breast Cancer

After a cancer diagnosis, it feels like a tablecloth has been pulled out from under you. It’s extremely overwhelming. Getting opinions and condolences from family, friends, survivors, doctors, and nurses. It’s hard to know where to turn as you adapt to your new normal.

Some women have surgery, some chemo sessions, and it’s over. They seemingly bounce back to their normal lives. Others can have complications after surgery for years and suffer trauma, as Momi shared, or an experience more in the middle. There is no journey that is the same.

Related: YouTube Star And ‘Lifestyle Influencer’ Mom, 30, Was Told By Her Doctor A Worrying Lump In Her Breast Was ‘A Cyst:’ It Turned Out To Be Cancer

One thing that many cancer survivors will agree with, is that although their futures may seem more uncertain after a life-changing experience, they live to appreciate each and every day.

“My patients who thrive, even with stage 4 cancer … I kind of am pretty good at seeing who is going to be OK,” Dr. Zuri Murrell, a surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview.

Stay Positive, It Matters

“Now (that) doesn’t mean I’m good at saying that the cancer won’t grow,” he said. “But I’m pretty good at telling what kind of patient (is) going to still have this attitude and probably going to live the longest. … Those are patients who — they have gratitude in life.”

Many patients will say that their lives, overall, changed for the better and shaped them into different people. So, no matter what part of the journey you are on, it is important to hold out hope that this dreadful disease happened for a reason, and always keep pushing forward.

Contributing: Marisa Sullivan

Learn more about SurvivorNet’s rigorous medical review process.



— Update: 01-01-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article A Broadway Actress Labeled ‘Too Young’ for Breast Cancer from the website www.everydayhealth.com for the keyword krysta rodriguez breast cancer.

For Broadway’s reigning Cinderella, Krysta Rodriguez, life hasn’t always been a fairytale.

The award-winning stage, screen, and television actress spent years dealing with a treatment disparity that is on the rise: reverse ageism.

“Getting a diagnosis for this disease is difficult at my age,” says Rodriguez, who’s now playing the glass-slippered maiden of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods. “If you’re in your twenties, it’s a nonstarter for some physicians.”

Changing trends in the age of onset for some cancers suggest that physicians need to revisit their misconceptions. A review article published in February 2022 in the British Journal of Cancer that tracked 98 studies revealed a clear climb in the incidence of breast cancers, as well as colorectal, kidney, pancreatic, and uterine cancers, among those younger than the “typical” individuals diagnosed with these diseases. Although the mechanism driving the age of onset is unknown, the authors concluded that the effect has been to subject younger patients to a greater chance of “diagnostic delays.”

Rodriguez, now 38 and well past her five-year cancer remission milestone, spent the second half of her twenties trapped in that unsettling limbo between symptom — a breast lump that she discovered in 2009 — and diagnosis in 2014. And it was all because of her youth.

Early Days

“At age 25, I noticed a lump,” Rodriguez recalls. “My gynecologist checked it and ordered an ultrasound. The ultrasound technician asked how old I was and if I had any family history” of breast cancer. Even though the technician saw something on the ultrasound, Rodriguez says, the next utterance became a yearly refrain: “You’re probably fine.”

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“Every year after that,” she says, “at my annual gynecological exam, my doctor would order an ultrasound. I would get the ultrasound and they would say I was fine.”

Although the actress desperately hoped that judgment was correct, she inwardly feared that it might be wrong. But statistics put her at a credibility disadvantage. Only 9 percent of breast cancers fit the category of “early onset,” as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; that is, occurring before age 45. Two decades younger than the official threshold, she didn’t meet the prevailing description of a breast cancer candidate. Because of that, medical experts failed to find what they never really looked for.

The Turning Point

Rodriguez was already a veteran of the stage when she found the lump: She had performed in Good Vibrations in 2005, Spring Awakening in 2006 (and in a later Deaf West revival), A Chorus Line in 2007, and In the Heights in 2008. Over the next two years, she portrayed Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family: A New Musical, earning a Broadway.com Audience Award.

After her doctor sounded a kind of “all clear,” she took his advice and, putting her cancer fears aside, pushed forward with her career. Among the highlights: In 2011, she added Bye Bye Birdie, a guest appearance on Gossip Girl, and two television movies — Iceland and Shadow of Fear — to her resume. In 2013, she performed on Broadway in First Date, as a guest on the web series It Could Be Worse, and in the cast of NBC’s Smash.

Then, in 2014, her breast began to bleed.

“Even after I’d bled, the doctor was dismissive,” she says. “He again asked my age and said it was probably a benign growth. But this time he did order a biopsy.”

At that point, she says, “I felt that there was no way it could be cancer. I was convinced we’d figure out what else this thing could be.”

Then came the biopsy results and everything changed.

Called in for her follow-up appointment, she was told that she needed to see a cancer specialist. “This was really happening,” she said. “I had cancer.”

Barely 30, Rodriguez was diagnosed with stage 3 ductal carcinoma, as defined by Mayo Clinic. Although the prognosis was guardedly positive, she learned that the disease, for which she’d likely have undergone a lumpectomy a few years earlier, now required surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy.

The overdue diagnosis also meant that critical decisions had to be made quickly: whether to have, for example, a single mastectomy or a “bilateral” (double) mastectomy. “Every male plastic surgeon wanted me to keep the breast that was free of cancer,” she says, “and every female doctor understood my fear that, if I didn’t remove the other breast, I’d have to do this all over again.”

She opted for an aggressive assault. It began with a three-month course of tumor-shrinking medication, followed by four months of chemotherapy. After that, she scheduled a double mastectomy with reconstruction and a final course of radiation.

The Medical Journey

Ironically, the same factor that had to led to initial skepticism was now a source of heightened attention and focus. Again, it was all about her age.

“If you’re going to live for 50 more years, people take you more seriously,” says Rodriguez.

From the start, it was clear that her daily life would be greatly altered by her treatment protocol. That meant she would have to determine whether — in her very public field — it made more sense to share her medical journey with colleagues and fans, or to attempt to conceal it.

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“I’d at first thought I just wouldn’t work for a while because I’d be sick or bald in a profession that’s all about aesthetics,” she says. “But as I began chemo, I realized I’d have to go public if I didn’t want to lie to people.”

She gathered up her courage and made the announcement. The response was overwhelming, encouraging, and deeply motivating,

“It was the first time I’d done something so public where I felt total support,” Rodriguez says. Many within and outside her profession offered assistance and, she recalls, “I even received a voicemail from an actor I barely knew, who said, ‘Sometimes, it’s better to ask someone you don’t really know for help. I will be that person.’”

Her disclosure also led her on some unexpected paths — to a role, for example, as a cancer patient in the ABC Family (now Freeform) series Chasing Life, which aired in 2014 and 2015.

“I was totally bald on the show, doing fake chemo and then getting real chemo the next day,” she says. “I had treatments every third week and was available for the next two.”

The Special Concerns of Younger Patients

Rodriguez was asked by Cosmopolitan Magazine to pen a blog, Chemo Couture, documenting her treatment while sharing fashion, wellness, and beauty tips.

At the same time, fellow Broadway actress and breast cancer survivor Mandy Gonzalez of the Broadway musical Hamilton recruited Rodriguez to help promote the mission of the nonprofit ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, an organization that matches patients with mentors based on diagnosis, age, and treatment protocols. Now an active supporter, Rodriguez recently starred in the organization’s virtual event and fundraiser, A Night In With ABCD. It was yet another opportunity to give voice to an often-overlooked population of younger cancer patients.

“We absolutely consider age another form of disparity and actually have a high percentage of younger women who call us,” says Ellen Friebert Schupper, ABCD’S executive director. “These younger patients are burdened with many concerns that others don’t have to think about and it’s especially important for them to not feel alone.”

Rodriguez echoes that sentiment, freely sharing her observations and advice with others who have breast cancer.

Looking Back and Ahead

“I feel grateful to be able to help other women go through the breast cancer experience in a conscious and not scary way because I know that cancer can be so lonely,” Rodriguez says. “But, as I tell other women, the things you’re afraid of at first never turn out to be as bad as your own fears and anxieties.”

Her most salient message is simple: Breast cancer, Rodriguez says, will surely change your life, but in some surprisingly positive ways, too.

“Looking back, the time I spent dealing with cancer was not the worst point of my life,” she says. “Because of it, I approach my career differently, seeking out roles that capture the messier and more complex woman I’ve become. And I try to no longer worry about petty things. Instead, I meet my challenges, and find joy in that.”

Her counsel to other young women, particularly those who feel sidelined by a skeptical medical establishment, is to be proactive, persistent, and powerful.

“Don’t be afraid to listen to yourself and keep moving, and if your doctor isn’t paying attention to you, someone else will,” Rodriguez says. “When a door closes, climb through the window.”

References

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About the Author: Tung Chi