An award-winning Aussie singer who has worked with some of the world’s biggest rock stars has opened up about her absence from the stage as she fights advanced ovarian cancer.
Virginia Lillye has spent decades touring the world and sharing the stage with the likes of Gene Simmons from KISS, Richie Kotzen from Poison and Gilby Clarke from Guns ‘N’ Roses along with many of Australia’s best known acts.
The Sydneysider, 54, is best known to many Aussies for being on season nine of The Voice in 2020 where she made it through to the top 20 showdown rounds as part of Boy George’s team.
Lillye’s world was turned upside in June when she was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer.
After putting her career on hold, she has spoken for the first time about her fight for life to raise awareness about ovarian cancer, which will claim the lives of more than 1,000 Australian women this year.
Australian singer Virginia Lillye has opened up about her ovarian cancer battle
Virginia Lillye’s husband Julian cut off his long hair when she lost hers in the first round of chemo
‘It’s a silent cancer that doesn’t make its appearance known until it’s stage three,’ Lillye told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Ovarian cancer doesn’t get as much attention as other cancers. It’s a sneaky cancer with the symptoms coming on late in the diagnosis.
‘It usually gets to stage three before you know what’s happening. There needs to be more awareness amongst society and more funds need to be raised to help instigate finding ways to discovering earlier diagnosis.’
Lillye was holidaying in Israel with her husband Julian when she started to experience severe stomach pains, bloating and issues with going to the toilet.
The couple rushed to the hospital as soon as they landed back in Sydney and received the devastating news three days later.
In the four months since, Lillye has undergone three rounds of chemotherapy and will begin another gruelling round next week. Another two rounds will follow.
Virginia Lillye (pictured) performed on the 2020 season of The Voice Australia
Virginia (left) was holidaying in Israel with her husband Julian (right) when she started to experience symptoms
Ovarian cancer symptoms: What to watch out for
Unexplained weight loss
Vague abdominal pain or pressure
Feeling of abdominal fullness, gas, nausea, indigestion – different to your normal sensations
Sudden abdominal swelling, weight gain or bloating
Persistent changes in bowel or bladder patterns
Low backache or cramps
Abnormal vaginal bleeding
Pain during intercourse
She lost her hair in the initial round of chemo, prompting her husband to cut off his own long locks.
She has spent 12 hours undergoing surgery which included 16 principle procedures.
Lillye has also suffered a series of complications, including multiple infections, sepsis and staph.
She’s also had fluid drained from her lungs and liver.
‘They had to reopen my guttered torso to remove and treat the infection and then sew and staple me back up… leaving me with no belly button anymore,’ Lillye recalled.
‘My oncologist said what I had been through was very very rare.. one in a million chances of happening.’
What normally is a fortnight stay in hospital turned into a five week stay stint, three of them in intensive care.
‘Apparently I’ve broken all records for the longest stay in hospital for the surgery that I initially went in for,’ Lillye said.
‘My appendix has been removed, my gall bladder taken, my liver is reduced in size, my bowel has been chopped, my spleen eliminated and chunks of diaphragm are now gone along with my fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus and cervix.’
There is no early detection test for ovarian cancer with around 70 per cent of cases diagnosed in the advanced stages where it has spread to other parts of the body.
The average five-year survival rate is 49 per cent, according to the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation.
Virginia Lillye has spent decades touring the world and sharing the stage with some of the world’s biggest rock stars
Lillye hopes sharing her story will spur other Aussies to be alert for symptoms and get regular doctor check-ups.
‘As soon as you see or feel any changes in your body, be sure to see your doctor ASAP,’ she said.
‘That goes for men too! Stay on top of pap smears, prostate checks, mammograms, skin checks, send that pop sample off if you’re 50 and over!
‘In order to live a long and happy life, health should be your top priority.’
Lillye remains hopeful of returning to the stage despite the odds of survival stacked against her.
‘My biggest hope for the future is for a full recovery. No relapsing and living life to the absolute fullest! Live with no regrets.’
Friends have rallied around Lillye and her husband and set up an online fundraiser as the medical bills mount.
More than $50,000 has been raised.
‘Our dearest and most wonderful Virginia is going though a massive life-changing experience,’ friend Peter Northcote wrote on the fundraiser page.
‘Diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it’s going to be a journey and a challenge that no one would ever wish for.
‘It’s going to be a journey and a challenge that no one would ever wish for.
‘A commitment to fight and win, regain a full healthy recovery and back to the powerhouse performer we know and love.’
If you or anyone needs support contact the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation helpline: 1300 660 334 or Cancer Council Australia on 13 11 20.
Virginia Lillye hope defy the odds and return to the stage in the future