NEW YORK — “It was the most exciting thing for me as a British actress,” recalls Maria Friedman, “to actually fulfill one of my dreams, which was to come to Broadway and star in a show — a part written for me, my sister producing it.”
Friedman is on stage three hours a day. And because those three hours are spent in a tight corset, she recently embarked on a diet. It was while looking in the mirror 18 days ago, disturbed that she wasn't losing more weight, that she noticed something wrong.
“I sort of put my hands here [her chest] and I suddenly thought, instantly, ‘What's that?’ There was something in me that I absolutely knew, categorically, that there was something wrong.”
Two hours later she arrived at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Five hours later she had an examination and a mammogram. The doctor's face gave away the rest of the plot.
“He was preparing us,” Friedman says, “Even though he hadn't got a pathology on the lump, he was preparing us that it was … it looked sinister.”
It was a cancerous lump, and it had to go. But opening night was, after all, 18 days away.
“I know the show is not as important as a life,” Friedman says. “But if I got rid of the cancer, it struck me that there were a lot of people whose livelihoods are depending on, you know, this Thursday.”
Call it “classically British.” Call it “the show must go on.” This 45-year-old mother of two was not going to let breast cancer cancel this show.
“There seems to be very little point in sort of allowing it to overwhelm me,” she says. “Five days later I'm rehearsing, and then a week later I was on stage with a doctor in the wings sort of bandaging me up.”
The previews are now over. It's opening night for two sisters: one, Sonja, a producer; the other, Maria, the star.
Sonja says she always knew the show would go on: "It was just a faith, a sisterly faith."
And Maria can already feel that other women who are fighting breast cancer are looking to her, applauding her and celebrating her success.
“The amount of women I've met outside the stage door and the letters — they've said I'm one of them, I got through it,” she says.
But this actress, who is being praised by her doctors as a living monument to early detection, says she won't allow any dramatics, because she calls herself lucky.
“It’s definitely time to celebrate being better,” says Friedman.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints