Mandy Gonzalez has continued performing as Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton while undergoing treatment for breast cancer

An elective mammogram made all the difference for Mandy Gonzalez.

The 41-year-old singer, who’s been starring in Hamilton since 2016, went in for her normal check-up last year when she was offered the option of getting a mammogram. Thanks to previous advice, she decided to be proactive and said yes.

“I don’t have a family history of breast cancer, and I had the option of whether to get a mammogram or not, because I was of the age,” Gonzalez tells PEOPLE. “Because of the brave women that have surrounded me and shared their stories, and because breast cancer tends to impact Latina women at a younger age than the general population, I decided to get a mammogram.”

After that first ultrasound didn’t come back completely clean, Gonzalez was advised to return in six months. It was during that follow-up appointment where doctors found more concerning signs, and Gonzalez was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall. She had surgery weeks later in November.

“Everything happened very fast, I was very fortunate that they were able to catch it early,” Gonzalez says of time after her second scan. “It’s important for women to know that early detection is key. As a community, as a society, we need to figure out a way so that everyone has access to a mammogram.”

Mandy Gonzalez
Mandy Gonzalez
| Credit: Ted Ely

Thanks to her early detection, Gonzalez has been in the driver’s seat when it comes to her treatment. And it hasn’t slowed her down — the Broadway staple is still starring in Hamilton as she undergoes treatment.

“I’m letting everyone know that this is one part of my life, and the other parts of my life continue,” she says. “I’m a mother, I have an eight-year-old daughter who’s very busy, and I will continue to sing and perform as Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton. I had surgery last fall and am still currently going through treatment.”

On top of her regular Hamilton performances, Gonzalez will also make her Carnegie Hall debut on Valentine’s Day with the New York Pops.

She previously originated the role of Nina Rosario in Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s other popular musical, In the Heights, and starred as Elphaba in Wicked back in 2010 for a successful 10-month run.

Mandy Gonzalez
| Credit: Joan Marcus

Gonzalez wasn’t in doubt about continuing to work through treatment, and says her own journey, while still keeping up with her regular life, mirrors all the other men and women who are going through the same battle.

“Singing has been my strength through this,” she says. “It has been my release from all of the stress. It’s the place that I know and I’ve been doing since I was a kid. So to sing, to perform through this has been a comfort to me.”

“I know that I’m not alone,” she continues. “There are so many mothers and daughters and sisters, so many people out there who are going through this, and I want them to know that I stand with them. We need to be comfortable talking about this. There is no shame. There is strength in sharing our stories and learning from one another.”

She also has the full support of the Hamilton cast and creatives, who are there for her on and off the stage.

The entire cast has really rallied around me,” she says. “If I need to sit for a minute off stage or little things like that, my HamFam is right there for me and with me. I’m really trying to do as much as humanly possible.”

Mandy Gonzalez
Mandy Gonzalez
| Credit: courtesy Mandy Gonzalez

Thankfully, the singer knew she’d already have the support of people all over the world — all through her #FearlessSquad.

The online community came together in 2017, and when Gonzalez released her first album later that year, she honored the group with the title track “Fearless.” It was written by close friend and In the Heights and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The community is full of supporters from all around the world and is centered on support, tolerance and vulnerability — all things Gonzalez is drawing on as she continues treatment.

“It was a relief and it was a guide for me,” Gonzalez says of knowing she already had a built-in support system. “In many ways the formation of #FearlessSquad has helped prepare me for this. I started it because I was inspired by the stories of men and women sharing their vulnerability and courageously taking action. Now here I am in the same position, and I find it so powerful to know I’m not alone. It gives me a whole new appreciation for what we’ve created together.”

Still, it’s not easy to be open about such a personal battle.

“I think the scariest part is admitting it to yourself,” she says. “The scariest part is telling your family, but the scariest part is being vulnerable and being human. That’s a very scary thing to do. But I’m hoping that through this, the healing begins. I’ve come to see that sharing and exposing vulnerability is a sign of strength, not weakness.”

“Yes, I have breast cancer. But it does not define me,” she adds. “I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend, an actress, a squad leader. None of that changes.”