Aussie rock singer and popular The Voice contestant Virginia Lillye fights stage three ovarian cancer
An award-winning Australian singer who has worked with some of the world’s biggest rock stars has opened up about her time away from the stage as she battles advanced ovarian cancer.
Virginia Lillye has been touring the world for decades, sharing the stage with the likes of Gene Simmons of KISS, Richie Kotzen of Poison and Gilby Clarke of Guns ‘N’ Roses, along with many of Australia’s best-known acts.
The Sydneysider, 54, is best known to many Aussies for starring on season nine of The Voice in 2020, where she reached the top 20 of the showdown rounds as part of Boy George’s team.
Lillye’s world was turned upside down 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 struggle for life raising awareness of 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 battle with ovarian cancer
Virginia Lillye’s husband Julian cut off his long hair when she lost hers during the first round of chemotherapy
“It’s a silent cancer that only becomes visible in the third stage,” Lillye told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Ovarian cancer does not receive as much attention as other forms of cancer. It is a sneaky cancer whose symptoms appear late in the diagnosis.
‘Usually you get to phase three before you know what’s happening. There needs to be more awareness in society and more money raised to help find ways to detect an earlier diagnosis.’
Lillye was on holiday in Israel with her husband Julian when she started experiencing severe stomach pain, bloating and problems going to the toilet.
The couple rushed to 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 a new, grueling round next week. Two more rounds follow.
Virginia Lillye (pictured) performed on the 2020 season of The Voice Australia
Virginia (left) was on vacation in Israel with her husband Julian (right) when she started experiencing symptoms
Ovarian cancer symptoms: what to look out for
Unexplained weight loss
Vague abdominal pain or pressure
Feelings of fullness in the abdomen, gas, nausea, indigestion – different from your normal feelings
Sudden swelling of the abdomen, weight gain or bloating
Persistent changes in bowel or bladder patterns
Low back pain or cramps
Abnormal vaginal bleeding
Pain during sexual intercourse
She lost her hair during the first round of chemotherapy, prompting her husband to cut off his own long locks.
She underwent twelve hours of surgery, including sixteen main procedures.
Lillye has also dealt with a series of complications, including multiple infections, sepsis and staph.
Fluid has also been drained from her lungs and liver.
“They had to reopen my battered torso to remove and treat the infection and then sew and staple me back together… leaving me without a belly button,” Lillye recalls.
“My oncologist said what I had experienced was very, very rare… a one in a million chance of it happening.”
What is normally a fourteen-day hospital stay turned into a five-week stay, three of which were in intensive care.
“Apparently I broke all the records for the longest hospital stay for the surgery I initially had to have,” Lillye said.
‘My appendix has been removed, my gallbladder has been removed, my liver has been reduced in size, my intestine has been cut, my spleen has been removed and pieces of my diaphragm are now gone, along with my fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus and cervix.’
There is no early detection test for ovarian cancer; about 70 percent of cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage when the disease has spread to other parts of the body.
According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, the average five-year survival rate is 49 percent.
Virginia Lillye has been touring the world for decades, sharing the stage with some of the world’s biggest rock stars
Lillye hopes sharing her story will encourage other Aussies to be alert to symptoms and get checked by a doctor regularly.
“As soon as you see or feel any changes in your body, see your doctor as soon as possible,” she said.
‘That also applies to men! Stay up to date on pap smears, prostate checks, mammograms, skin checks, send in that pop sample if you’re 50 or older!
“To live a long and happy life, health should be your top priority.”
Lillye continues to return to the stage with hope, despite the odds of survival hanging in the balance for her.
‘My greatest hope for the future is a full recovery. No relapse and live life to the fullest! Live without regrets.’
Friends have rallied around Lillye and her husband, setting up an online fundraiser as medical bills mount.
More than $50,000 has been raised.
“Our dearest and most wonderful Virginia is going through a hugely life-changing experience,” friend Peter Northcote wrote on the fundraising page.
‘When diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it becomes a journey and a challenge that no one would ever wish for.
“It will be a journey and a challenge that no one would ever wish for.
“A commitment to fight and win, regain a full health recovery and return to the powerhouse we know and love.”
If you or someone else needs support, please contact the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation helpline: 1300 660 334 or Cancer Council Australia on 13 11 20.
Virginia Lillye’s hopes defy the odds and return to the stage in the future