Sandra Lee Offers a Deeper Look Into Her Breast Cancer Battle in a New HBO Documentary

In March 2015, Meals Community star Sandra Lee had simply left the set the place she had been photographed together with her pet birds Halo and Phoenix for Folks journal’s “Most Lovely” challenge when she bought the decision that modified her life without end: She had an early type of breast most cancers known as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). “That’s how briskly life turns,” she says. Reeling, she spent days watching the PBS collection Most cancers: The Emperor of All Maladies and started to grapple together with her new actuality. “I began to know how aggressive most cancers is, and I made a decision to struggle again simply as aggressively,” she says.

Sandra shares that struggle in her new HBO documentary, Rx Early Detection: A Most cancers Journey With Sandra Lee. For 40 minutes, the TV chef most of us know for dreaming up tasty shortcuts within the kitchen takes viewers on a courageous and grueling journey from analysis by way of surgical procedure and a painful restoration. It’s a no-holds-barred depiction of what it’s actually like to deal with breast most cancers — precisely the useful resource Sandra says she needs she’d had on the time.

“I couldn’t discover something aside from girls saying that they had breast most cancers, after which within the subsequent shot they’d had reconstructive surgical procedure and seemed nice,” she says. “I used to be considering, What occurred in between?” Sandra’s documentary covers the in-between, completely capturing the day-to-day particulars of the lifetime of most cancers sufferers and the emotional curler coaster they and their family members endure. In it, the normally camera-ready star of the present Semi-Selfmade Cooking is stripped right down to her true self: makeup-free, weak and but extremely sturdy. “It’s not fairly,” says Sandra. And that’s her level: The in-between is messy and unhappy, but in addition full of hope.

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Hiding Her Ache

At first, Sandra stored her analysis secret from all however shut household and her associate, New York governor Andrew Cuomo. She coped by doing what she knew greatest — working. By day, she was cheerfully planning an upcoming phase on wholesome cocktails for The Dr. OzShow. At night time, she wrestled with the toughest selections of her life. “It was loopy for weeks,” she says. “I would depart a set with hair and make-up and go to a physician’s workplace and interview him about remedy choices and do my checks.” Finally she selected a double mastectomy, regardless that most cancers had been present in just one breast. “I didn’t need to take any possibilities,” she says. “My most cancers was in three separate locations, and there was the likelihood it may come again within the different breast.”

However whereas Sandra hoped to share her analysis publicly in her personal time, it was leaked to the press, forcing her to go public (with an announcement on Good Morning America) far sooner than she wished to. “I used to be struggling,” she says. “I felt like I used to be below a microscope whereas I used to be making an attempt to take care of a really non-public a part of my life.” Simply days later, she walked into the working room to endure her mastectomy. “They wished to place me on a gurney, and I used to be like, ‘I'll stroll into that room with my head up,’ ” says Sandra. “It was the final defiant transfer I may make earlier than they…it’s an amputation,” she provides, her voice breaking. In a tearjerking second within the movie, Governor Cuomo walks by her facet, holding her hand and comforting her as she lies down on the desk and begins to cry. With a kiss and phrases of affection, he leaves to begin his agonizing wait with Kimber, Sandra’s sister.

The surgical procedure scene is without doubt one of the hardest to look at, however its grittiness makes it one of the vital demystifying. “They hole you out,” says Sandra, matter-of-factly describing how her surgeon used instruments to scrape all her breast tissue from beneath her pores and skin. The tissue was changed with a stretcher, step one towards eventual reconstruction.

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Highway to Restoration

Although gaunt, in ache and exhausted after surgical procedure, Sandra says she felt “fortunate — very, very fortunate. It was early.” After every week within the hospital, she went residence to start touring on the lengthy street again to well being. (Since her breast tissue had been eliminated, she didn't require radiation or chemotherapy.) She had a significant setback that August, when she contracted a life-threatening an infection in her proper breast space and was placed on mattress relaxation and intravenous medicine for 3 months. “I couldn’t go away the home — I couldn’t even transfer, I used to be in a lot ache,” she says.

The one shiny spot: A sisterhood of celebrities who had additionally survived breast most cancers, together with Rita Wilson, Christina Applegate, Robin Roberts and Melissa Etheridge, sprang as much as help her. “They had been my angels,” says Sandra. “Except you’ve gone by way of this, it’s laborious to know the way it feels.” She additionally cast an in depth bond with Kathy Bates, one other fellow survivor, who turned an govt producer of Sandra’s documentary.

Sandra hopes her documentary will supply a few of that been there steering to assist girls with breast most cancers who comeafter her. She started filming shortly after her analysis with the assistance of Cathy Chermol Schrijver, the top of her manufacturing firm, who wielded a small handheld digital camera and a flip telephone to create the unfiltered real-life impact Sandra wished. “I’d at all times been there for ladies earlier than, serving to them get dinner on the desk, beautify and switch a black thumb inexperienced,” Sandra says. “How disingenuous would it not have been to not open my world to them once they would possibly want it most?”

As Sandra grew stronger, she struggled with the what-ifs: What if she hadn’t been identified when she had? What if there have been different girls on the market who had been unknowingly sick? She knew she needed to do one thing to make sure that all girls had entry to screenings that might catch most cancers early. “I spotted I had a associate [Governor Cuomo] who may change legal guidelines for the ladies on this state,” she says. “That turned my purpose.”

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With Cuomo’s assist, Sandra was the driving pressure behind New York State’s No Excuses legislation, a $91 million effort to offer probably the most superior cancer-screening program within the nation. By absorbing the price of co-pays and follow-ups for residents of New York and lengthening testing facilities’ hours, the legislation seeks to eradicate frequent limitations — price and time — that sufferers cite as obstacles to getting screenings. “The sooner you catch it, the longer you get to dwell,” says Sandra. “Interval. Finish of story.”

And she or he hasn’t stopped but: She’s touring this fall to talk on to elected officers in a number of states to prod them to make use of the legislation as a blueprint for related initiatives. “Write to your governor,” she urges girls. (Discover particulars on the legislation right here.)

At this time, Sandra is wholesome and completely happy. “Most cancers now not guidelines my life — I’m getting again to myself,” she says. “I’m healed as a lot as anyone who’s gone by way of this may be, and I'll proceed to help and struggle alongside my sisters. When you’re on this household, you’re in for all times.”

Watch Rx Early Detection: A Most cancers Journey with Sandra Lee tonight at eight p.m. on HBO.

This story was initially revealed within the November 2018 challenge of Good Housekeeping.

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About the Author: Tung Chi