Vanessa Hudgens, Greg Hudgens

Michael Simon/StarTraks

For Vanessa Hudgens, the new year launched with a devastating loss. 

On January 31, she lost her father, Greg Hudgens, 65, to stage four cancer nearly six months after she first revealed he was battling the disease. 

"It felt like it was some mean joke," she said of her father's shocking diagnosis. "You think you're going to make it through, you're there with them every step of the way, holding their hand, wanting it to be okay."

It was not the first time someone close to her had been afflicted with the illness. Her boyfriend Austin Butler's mother had died from stage three cancer a year earlier. 

"It was shocking," she said of the initial news. "I had never dealt with cancer personally and to hear that word, it was just like a punch in the stomach."

The 27-year-old actress unfortunately learned the hard truth about the all-encompassing disease. 

"You always think that you're going to make it through and you're going to overcome it, but sometimes that doesn't happen," she admitted. "Cancer is very aggressive and it doesn't take pity on anyone or anything."

Vanessa Hudgens, Julianne Hough

Stephen Busken

It certainly did not take pity on Hudgens, who was scheduled to perform in Grease: Live the day after her father passed away. 

"Every day I came to work, they all hugged me, checked in on me, made sure I was doing okay," she said of her fellow castmates. "My dad passed away the night before my show, and it was shocking. I knew that it was coming, but nothing can prepare you for losing a parent."

Despite the tragedy in her personal life, Hudgens was ultimately praised for her emotional performance as Rizzo in the television revival. Today, she is combining her personal experiences with cancer and her love of the performing arts to uplift those also affected by the disease by partnering with I Am a Dancer Against Cancer. The campaign raises money for cancer-fighting charities and works to provide financial support to members of the dance community who are suffering the effects of the illness. 

 

Vanessa Hudgens, Julianne Hough, Derek Hough

Stephen Busken

"I started dancing almost immediately after I learned how to walk," Hudgens said. "It will always be a part of who I am and how I express myself."

"When someone you love has cancer, it's a very hard thing to deal with for them and for you, but the thing that honestly got me through it was my community that I was surrounded by," she added.

Ultimately, she found the strength to give the performance of a lifetime in honor of her special angel. 

"I dedicated my performance to my dad because I knew he was up there in heaven looking down on me as proud as can be."

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