updated 07/07/2010 AT 6:00 PM ET
•originally published 07/08/2010 AT 10:10 AM ET
Shannon Tavarez was performing as the young Nala in The Lion King on Broadway when her legs mysteriously started to hurt. The pain made walking – not to mention dancing – difficult. In April came the devastating diagnosis: At age 11, she had an acute form of leukemia.
The news “really hit me hard,” says Tavarez.
Her struggle also struck a chord with Alicia Keys and Rihanna. The singers, who both started their careers when they were young, decided to help get the word out that Tavarez needs a bone marrow transplant to live.
Keys says she was touched when she visited Tavarez on July 2 in the Long Island hospital where she receives daily chemotherapy treatments.