Chicago Med star Marlyne Barrett reveals cancer diagnosis: 'I'm going to face this'

Three years ago, Chicago Med actress Marlyne Barrett battled cancer on screen when her character, nurse Maggie Lockwood, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now the actress is opening up about her own experience with uterine and ovarian cancer, having been inspired by how her storyline resonated with viewers.

"I'm an extremely private person, but I felt a responsibility to tell my story," Barrett told PEOPLE in an interview published Tuesday. "When my character went through breast cancer, I had a sea of people reach out to me through social media. They brought me courage, and so I felt a sense of inevitability to meet their hearts where they met me."

Barrett was stunned to receive her diagnosis in July, having had no family history of either uterine or ovarian cancer. "The initial experience was a shock, a shock to my womanhood," she said. "I didn't believe them, but when they showed me the CT scan, I went, 'Oh my word.' The first questions were, 'Am I going to live?' I just fell into my husband's arms. It still takes my breath away when I think about it."

Marlyne Barrett
Marlyne Barrett

Stephane Cardinale/Corbis/Getty Marlyne Barrett

Barrett and her family — husband pastor Gavin Barrett and their 11-month-old twins — met the challenge head-on. Her doctors told her she would need aggressive chemotherapy before an eventual hysterectomy. "I found this courage and I just hunkered down and said, 'I'm going to face this,'" the 44-year-old actress said.

Barrett admits that she "wept, wept, wept" when she shaved her head, but did so in front of her kids "so they'd see it was still Mommy." At work, Barrett was further heartened by the solidarity from her Chicago Med family. "I've had people shave their heads on set to support me," she tearfully recalled.

"Interestingly enough, my character on the show already wears a wig!" she added, noting that work keeps her time and her mind occupied. "It brings me a lot of reprieve to think about something other than, 'When is my next chemo shift?' and 'How am I going to hug my children?'"

Barrett intends to keep fighting for her children, whom she expects to see get married some day. She's currently preparing for her third round of chemotherapy and says she's taking it "one day at a time."

"We as human beings are so scared to face the mortality of life, or to even pronounce the word cancer," she added. "But we have so much more strength inside of us than we think."

Chicago Med airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

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