RX Early Detection: A Cancer Journey With Sandra Lee

NEW YORK (WABC) -- It's been three years now since Sandra Lee found herself in the fight of her life against breast cancer. Today, she is cancer free and trying to help others fight the disease with a film called "RX Early Detection: A Cancer Journey With Sandra Lee."

She always seems so poised and put together on TV, so the contrast between her on-screen persona and the way Lee appears in a HBO documentary is striking -- which of course makes her movie all the more effective.

"I watched that movie, and I thought 'Wow, I'm weaker than I thought,'" she said.

Lee was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and determined she had to undergo a double mastectomy. She had already decided to start filming.

I wanted to know if that made the procedure more stressful.

"No," she said. "It never made the process harder because we shot on a very small camera."

The idea was to help others find what had eluded her.

"What I needed when I was diagnosed was not available to me," she said. "I could not find anywhere online, 'What does a double mastectomy look like?' 'What does the operation look like?'"

Graphic scenes of surgery leave almost nothing to the imagination, but what I found most poignant were scenes of her companion, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, accompanying her into the operating room. Just before the anesthetic takes hold, he tells her, "You're a beautiful, beautiful lady from the inside out."

Her sister, Kim, is also a constant presence in the film, with Lee reinforcing the necessity of having help.

"You really need your caretakers," she said. "Everybody needs their caretakers, regardless of who that is. And that's also what this film is about."
Lee's recovery was hampered by a serious complication three months after her surgery, and it would be many more months before she could start working on the film. When she did, she was shocked.

"I saw the surgery," she said. "That was my first glimpse at what the footage was, and I just started bawling."

But she persevered to finish what amounts to a half hour plea she makes most eloquently.

"It speaks to the impact of what this disease's intent is, and its intent is to kill you," she said. "So you stay on guard, and you get screened, and you take care of you!"

Now, Lee is hoping for an Oscar nomination in the Documentary Shorts category. She hopes it would help spread the word about the importance of early detection and help pass laws improving access to screening for breast cancer. New York State already has such a law, but other states do not.

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