Actress Mandy Gonzalez talks about battling breast cancer while continuing to give it her all in Hamilton.

Mandy Gonzalez opened up to PEOPLE about her fight against breast cancer. The Hamilton actress, 41, was diagnosed last year after getting an elective mammogram during a regular checkup. “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,” she said. “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.”

That decision was life-saving for the Mexican American actress, who has been starring in Hamilton since 2016 and also had roles in Wicked and In the Heights. Her first ultrasound concerned her doctors, who asked her to return for another checkup in six months and diagnosed her with breast cancer in the fall. “Everything happened very fast. I was very fortunate that they were able to catch it early,” says Gonzalez, who had surgery in November, a few weeks after her second screening. “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.”

Gonzalez’s early detection has made all the difference in her case and she continues to perform on Broadway 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 8-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.”

Continuing to work in what she loves most has had a healing effect emotionally. “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.”

She also thanked the Hamilton cast for their support and admits that opening up about how she’s fighting for her health has made her feel stronger. “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.”

Dealing with your own fears is part of the process. “I think the scariest part is admitting it to yourself,” she reflects. “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.”