Off-camera, Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester has been waging a stressful legal battle against her mother, who wants more of her money. In an exclusive interview with In Touch, her mother, Constance Meester, reveals that she and Leighton’s younger brother, Lex, are nearly destitute. “My car was taken away,” she says, “My house has gone into default, and we can’t afford food. I only have $26 left. If something doesn’t happen soon, we’ll be homeless by the holidays.” And, she adds, “I just got blood work done, and the doctors are pretty sure that I have lymphoma.”

By now, Leighton’s fans know that both of her parents were incarcerated on drug-related charges when she was born. But Constance claims that she cleaned up in order to ensure a brighter future for her daughter. “I knew that she was going to be a star and I devoted my life to making sure that happened,” she explains. “I never told Leighton this, but I worked as an exotic dancer to make ends meet.”

Naturally, when the actress booked Gossip Girl, Constance imagined that the hard times were over. But with the money came disagreements about how to manage it. In late 2008, Constance admits, her daughter ended their informal business relationship. However, Leighton did agree to continue giving money to her mother — she sent her $7,500 every month until July, when she filed a lawsuit accusing Constance of misusing the funds to pay for cosmetic surgery for herself, which was intended to pay for Lex’s medical care.

Indeed, it’s a tragic tale, and it seems unlikely that anyone in Leighton’s family is going to emerge unscathed. “The other night,” Constance says, “I was looking at homeless shelters, and Lex showed me photos he’d found of a million dollar house she bought in LA and said, ‘Mom, how can she do this to us?’ ” It’s a story sure to hurt Leighton. One can’t help but wonder if that’s exactly the point.