Jeanette Lee, a former billiards No. 1 player known as “The Black Widow,” was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer, she said on Wednesday.
Lee, 49, helped popularize pool in the 1990s while competing on ESPN’s broadcasts of the Women’s Professional Billiard Association circuit. She’s a World Games gold medalist as well as WPBA, BCA and Asian Hall of Fame inductee.
“I intend to bring the same resolve I brought to the billiards table to this fight,” Lee said in a statement via the American Poolplayers Association (APA). “Jim Valvano so eloquently told us to ‘Never give up.’ I owe it to my three young daughters to do exactly that.”
Billiards star begins chemotherapy
Lee has already begun chemotherapy and has multiple surgeries upcoming to fight the disease, which has metastasized in her lymph nodes, per a GoFundMe friends set up for her children. The “Jeanette Lee Legacy Fund” is to maker sure her daughters Cheyenne (16), Chloe (11) and Savannah (10) and cared for and can afford to attend college.
“Jeanette has been a single mother for the last several years,” the GoFundMe reads. “The future care, well-being and education of her girls is the biggest cause of anxiety for her.”
Lee has suffered from scoliosis since childhood and it has gotten worse over the past decade, per the GoFundMe page. The page suggests it was because of pain from scoliosis that her cancer spread unrecognized to her.
“She’s in a lot of pain all the time, anyway, so she didn’t notice any difference,” Lee’s longtime agent, Tom George, said Wednesday when reached by phone.
George said that Lee objected to the news release’s description of her as having been diagnosed with “terminal cancer” because she “intends to beat it.” Doctors have told her, he said, that she likely has no more than a year or two left to live.
She has undergone 19 surgeries to fight the disease at “incredible personal expense,” per the GoFundMe. It is what led her to step away from pool in 2010. Her APA franchise in Tampa has also taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic since people are not gathering.
‘Black Widow’ helped pool’s popularity
Lee, a Brooklyn native of Korean heritage, became one of the biggest stars in pool during the 1990s when ESPN gave airtime to women’s tournaments.
She started her career in 1989 and turned professional in 1991, earning the Women’s Professional Billiard Associations player of the year honor in 1994. In 1998 she was named the WPBA Sportsperson of the Year.
She became the No. 1 ranked player in the world and earned more than 30 national and international titles. Her success continued into the 2000s, but in 2010 she had to step away because of scoliosis.
Her nickname was bestowed on her while working on her game at the Howard Beach Billiard Club in Queens, N.Y. She was initially wary of the name not reflecting her true persona, per the Post, but she came to be glad the nickname stuck. Via the Post:
“They loved me being competitive, and feminine, and strong,” she said then, “and it was okay. I think that nickname represents that side of me. I’m also a mother, and a friend, and I have this other, very social, softer side.”
Lee was a part of ESPN Magazine’s “The Body Issue” and competed on Korea’s “Dancing with the Stars.” She was so popular she was honored with a “This is SportsCenter” commercial spot on ESPN and made a cameo in the Disney film, “The Other Sister.”
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