SandraLee-FTR

Spend some time with Sandra Lee and you’ll feel like you’re in the company of a friend who is always ready to lend a hand—no matter what you need. It’s that take-charge mentality and desire to help that has made Lee a huge success. Whether in her work as an Emmy-winning Food Network star or as a New York Times best-selling author of 25 books, including 2010’s Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade: The Complete Cookbook (Wiley), Lee has always shared her signature “smart and simple” tips with the goal of helping people live easier—and better—lives.

So it was only natural that when Lee was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in March—followed by a bilateral mastectomy in May and complications due to an infection in early August—she would share her story with her fans, and the world. All in hopes of making life better for as many people as possible.

A few weeks ago, Parade sat down with the 49-year-old TV chef, and partner of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in her bright white Manhattan apartment to talk about what she most wants people to know about her breast cancer experience.

A cancer diagnosis will rock your world in ways you never imagined

The whole experience of being diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer was a huge, overwhelming surprise. It’s stunning to realize that your body’s cells are changing and that this change could cause your death. That is a really powerful, intense emotion to digest. I’ll never forget the moment after my annual mammogram when my radiologist told me there were four different places throughout one of my breasts that looked different from the year before. Even before I got a cancer diagnosis, I remember thinking, My breasts were nice and now they’re killing me—so get them off.

Two days later I had a lumpectomy and a biopsy, and by the end of the week I got the call from my doctor that I had breast cancer. When I got that phone call, I was in a car with my best friend on the way to dinner. She started bawling and I immediately called my sister, Kimmy, and Andrew. Then I went into the restaurant and I had a very stiff drink. When you’re told that you have cancer, you have a stiff drink.

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Don’t negotiate with cancer

From the very moment I learned I had breast cancer, I took control. I was clear that I wouldn’t negotiate with cancer—I don’t think anyone should. I also didn’t want to spend my life looking behind me, thinking, Is the cancer going to come back this year or next year, next week or next month? At the end of the day, you don’t want to see what cancer is going to do to you. You have to take a leap and do what you have to do to get rid of it. I truly believe—and so did my surgeon—in being aggressive with treatment and care so I’ll be around for 10 years, 20 years and hopefully way more.

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For me, a double mastectomy had better odds than a lumpectomy plus radiation, so that was all I needed to know. I also decided that I was going to be strong when I walked into the hospital for my mastectomy. While that doesn’t mean you don’t feel weak or fragile inside, I was defiant. I was not going to get wheeled in. I was going to walk into the operating room with my head held high.

A supportive partner can make all the difference

When you go through something like a cancer diagnosis, you learn even more about who people are. I learned how supportive, sweet and available Andrew can be when it matters most. When I was first diagnosed, we went away for four days to make a decision about what I was going to do next. That was a really important time for us. It helps that we aren’t kids; we’ve been together for 10 years and we’re very clear about how our life together will be. For example, we’re very protective of Andrew’s daughters, Michaela, 18, and twins Cara and Mariah, 20. It was very important for us to decide how to tell them—together—about my diagnosis.

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This is a time when you need your girlfriends

I have a great girl gang—we’re all very open, honest and loving. So as soon as this happened, we took action—as in “Who knows who?” and “Who are the best doctors?”

As a person who runs a company, I found myself going right into operational mode, and my friends did too. It’s amazing how much you need friends at a time like this. I always tell people that when something this serious happens, you don’t want to be the person who says nothing in response to news like this. Your job as a friend is to be supportive, loving, kind and real. The response from friends should always be, “What do you need right now?” For example, when I couldn’t keep anything down, my girlfriend must have spent $80 getting me chopped watermelon, since that was the only thing I wanted to eat. All my friends know that when I can’t stomach fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, something’s really wrong.

It’s empowering to share your story

I look at my Facebook followers and Twitter “sisters,” which is what I call them, as an extension of my family. After my diagnosis, and before, during and after my surgery, I wanted to share everything I would share if you were my sister. I wanted to be as open, honest and forthright as I could be. I have a very cool fan base, and many people who follow me have gone through cancer or have watched others go through treatment. All of them have been a real inspiration to me.

Now that I’m in the next phase and am focused on healing and getting back to myself, I hope I can be a sister or best friend to my followers and that people will see me as a person who wants the best for their health. It makes me happy to know that I can set an example for women and inspire them to be screened. For example, a lot of women in Andrew’s office recently got mammograms after my experience, and two women in his office ended up with a breast cancer diagnosis. In the end, what’s most important to me is to use this challenge to help others and for people to benefit from what happened to me. I want other women to be saved.

ALSO READ  Discover the 5 Unconventional Signs of Breast Cancer

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