Marlyne Barrett, who plays head charge nurse Maggie Lockwood on NBC's Chicago Med, was diagnosed with uterine and ovarian cancer over the summer. The actress, 44, told PEOPLE that doctors found a football-sized tumor on her uterus and left ovary. Barrett hopes that by telling her story, she can inspire others to share uncomfortable truths.
In 2019, her character fought breast cancer on Chicago Med, and she received an outpouring of positive feedback from fans on social media. So when she was diagnosed with cancer in July, Barrett decided that she would eventually break from her private nature and speak publicly about her health. "I'm an extremely private person, but I felt a responsibility to tell my story," The Wire star told PEOPLE. "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's cancer journey can be traced back to a hernia repair she had in April. She began feeling "off" about two months ago. She had an "accumulation of fluid" in her abdomen that she couldn't shake, Barrett said. "I looked like I was nine months pregnant. And I also had shortness of breath, but no pain, which was interesting," she told the magazine.
On July 18, her doctors said she had a mass on her ovary and uterus, which left her in a state of shock. Her family had no history of uterine or ovarian cancers. Barrett said she did not believe the diagnosis until her doctors showed her the CT scan. "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," she said.
After her doctors told her she would need "aggressive" chemotherapy before a hysterectomy, Barrett decided to face the situation head-on. "The best way I could experience was to meet it," she said. "There's no running from it because it's my life. And eventually, you just surrender because it's so much bigger than anything you've ever faced. I found this courage and I just hunkered down and said, 'I'm going to face this.'" She admitted to crying when she shaved her head and did it in front of her children so "they'd see it was still Mommy."
Barrett married pastor Gavin Barrett in 2009. They are parents to 11-month-old twins Joshuah-Jireh and Ahnee-N'Urya. "I'm married to the most incredible man," Barrett said of her husband. "I get pins and needles in my limbs from the chemo and he'll drop everything to give me food and hand massages. He's dropped everything just to give me love."
The Chicago Med team has been fully supportive of Barrett during her cancer journey. She will continue appearing on the show, but she has to show up an hour earlier than usual to "get my bearings" before filming starts. She also naps during the day and takes occasional days off. Barrett praised the costume department for doing an "incredible job" and noted that her character already wears a wig.
She is now preparing for a third round of chemotherapy at City of Hope in Los Angeles. "I find new strength to carry on every day because of [my children]," she told PEOPLE. "I want to see them get married one day. And I will."