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Dancing with the Stars

Inside Mr. T's Cancer Battle — and How He's Inspiring Others to Fight for Their Lives

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Mr. T has already promised to shave his famous mohawk in honor of children fighting cancer if he wins Dancing with the Stars — and his inspiration stems from his own battle with the disease.

The former A-Team star was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma in 1995, and he told PEOPLE after Monday’s episode, “that’s why I’m dancing.”

“I’m dancing for the kids at St. Jude [Children’s Research Hospital] and Shriners [Hospitals for Children],” he said.

“I want to talk about my situation to give hope to someone who has just been diagnosed,” he added. “Like a mother with her child — [I want to] tell them, ‘Hey, I come from there, but don’t quit.’ That’s why I’m doing it. That’s why I don’t want to say dancing is hard — if dancing is hard, then what’s that saying to the people out there going through cancer?”

Mr. T underwent several rounds of chemotherapy over the years, and he told PEOPLE what gave him hope was his “faith in God.”

“It was a test of my faith,” he said. “I’m very spiritual. In the Book of Job, he was challenged [but he] kept believing in God and that’s the message I try to tell other people. Just because you believe in God, serve God, feed the hungry, clothe the naked … that doesn’t mean things are not going to happen to you.”

“I had to practice what I preached,” he continued. “I try to use my experience and the fact that I grew up in the ghetto — I tell people you don’t have to rob or steal to get out of the ghetto. I was diagnosed with cancer — I tell people you don’t have to commit suicide. We’ve got good medicine now. I want people to draw strength from me.”

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And when it comes to the ABC dance competition, Mr. T said he’s learning to adjust.

“It’s not easy,” he admitted. “I don’t want people to think you can just get out there and dance. [It requires] a lot of practice and determination and I think a lot of celebrities don’t realize this takes time and effort. Like anything you do, you only get out of it what you put into it.”

“Each week I just want improve,” he added. “My mother used to tell me the biggest room is the room for improvement.”

Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.