Dr. Danielle Spencer played the bratty little sister Dee on the late-’70s sitcom, ‘ What’s Happening!!’ But the now 49-year-old actress is not a sad cautionary tale like so many other child stars. After the show ended it’s 3-year run from 1975-1978, Spencer went on to Tuskeegee University where she completed a degree in veterinary science and became a veterinarian. Spencer is facing a challenge now – she has been diagnosed with breast cancer and she hopes her story will encourage other women to seek screening. But for those who love nostalgia, Spencer remains a fond memory of childhood, her famous line ‘Oooh, I’m gonna tell mama,” is one her fans still say when they run into her. But Spencer says she’s OK with that, even if some people don’t realize she’s heard it many times before.
“I chuckle, because everyone thinks its original, so I have to act like it’s new every time,” she laughs.
Spencer says she stopped acting to focus on school, vowing to return to acting if her career as veterinarian didn’t work out. Twenty-two years later, she’s happy with her choice.
“However I do miss it every once in a while. There are a lot more show and opportunities when I was young. She says. I wish there were more representations of animal rights on TV and I”m so glad there is Animal Planet now.” Spencer says she’d love to be part of a reality show focusing on animal rights and care.
But first, Spencer has her own medical challenge. She was diagnosed with breast cancer a month ago and is heading to the hospital this week to seek the best treatment option.
“Surgery is definitely one of the options,” she says. “I”m trying to get as many opinions as possible but it does look that that is what I’m going to do. Hopefully after that there won’t be any chemotherapy or radiation. With everything that I’ve been through with the spinal cord injury (Spencer was in a car accident in 1977, during the show. Symptoms of spinal cord injury showed up 26 years later, eventually leaving her near-paralysis for a time) I know God is not going to give me another affliction. So I was completely shocked when the doctors told me.”
Spencer had a family history of breast cancer, but says she has a lot of support and help in her life but says that good things have also happened in her life this year. One of the most significant was her induction into the Smithsonian Museum, the only child star so inducted. She will be part of the permanent exhibition of the African-American cultural museum scheduled to open in 2015.
“I still can’t believe it,” she says. “That’s something people can look at for years to come, long after I’m gone.”
Click the links above to hear the entire interview!