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‘What’s Happening’ star on surviving cancer: ‘It’s still unbelievable’

RICHMOND, Va. -- Most people remember the character of "Dee" on the classic 70s sitcom "What's Happening" as the feisty, sarcastic and scheming little sister, but for Danielle Spencer-David, the actress who portrayed "Dee," life has had its challenges.

Danielle Spencer-David

Danielle Spencer-David on the 70s hit "What's Happening"

The first tragedy in Spencer-David's life happened in 1977 when the man who introduced her to acting, her stepfather, Tim Pelt, was killed in a car accident. She was also nearly killed, but Pelt managed to shield her body.

Then years later, injuries from that accident would lead to paralysis in her legs. And just two years after moving to Richmond, another devastating diagnosis shook her world in 2014.

“I came into the room, there were about five doctors in there," Spencer-David said. "So that scared the living daylights out of me. And they told me I had breast cancer."

From doing her own breast self exam, Spencer-David discovered lumps in her right breast. After having a biopsy that confirmed she had cancer, she then opted for a preventative double mastectomy at VCU Massey Cancer Center.

Spencer-David's decision to also remove her left breast came months after actress Angelina Jolie stunned the world by removing both of her healthy breasts.

“I didn't do it as a result of her," Spencer-David explained. "I just thought, 'Why do it in one and not the other when it's more than likely going to spread?'"

Danielle Spencer-David

Danielle Spencer-David

Spencer-David said her disability from the car accident made the process of having surgery and chemo slower, but that it is now starting to sink in that she is cancer free.

"It's still unbelievable to this day," she said. "I can hardly believe I went through it.”

Spencer-David, a veterinarian in Richmond who often appears on WTVR CBS 6's "Virginia This Morning," was recently inducted into the new National Museum of African American History and Culture as the youngest female child in a sitcom.

"To be part of a permanent collection is unbelievable," Spencer-David said. "You can't even picture it or fathom what it even means years from now."