Sandra Lee on Her Double Mastectomy: "I Don’t Need Boobs"

Every October marks the debut of a new crop of pink beauty products donning the cotton candy-colored ribbon and the realization that however seemingly pervasive information about breast cancer may be, it still has no cure and claims the life of about 40 thousand American women every year.

The annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease goes strong all month long, and while some women find comfort in joining BCA walks and marathons, others find inspiration in hearing the stories of women who have beat the disease. We sat down with celebrity chef and author Sandra Lee to learn about her recent breast cancer battle, her double mastectomy and how she ended up stronger than ever.

NB: How did you get diagnosed?
Sandra Lee: This past spring, I went for my annual mammogram and the radiologist saw something in the film that she didn’t see the year before and wasn’t on the other side. So I went for a biopsy and they confirmed that I had breast cancer.

NB: What were your initial reactions?
SL: I had a very clear reaction to that diagnosis and that was just get it out, get it out right now. [My doctor] was like, “We can’t do it right now,” and I said, “Fine. Can we do it Friday?” I don’t need boobs. It’s fine. I’m good with that. So, I was pretty clear.

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NB: What helped you through recovery?
SL: I have a particular close friend, Rosemarie Ingleton, who’s a dermatologist, and I spent a lot of time talking to her. We talked about how my body would change and what it would feel like. She saw the aftermath of such an aggressive surgery, and really helped take care of me. [Rosemarie] was very conscientious about, not only my health, but also how I felt on the outside.

When I went through my breast cancer, she was in the hospital with me, but she also came to my house when I looked completely emaciated because I had lost 20 pounds in less than two weeks. I lose weight in my face first.

She came on a Sunday in torrential rains and opened up her bag in my house and laid out all these injectables, from Botox to Sculptra. When you get a double mastectomy, what happens is [the surgery] hollows you out from your clavicle down and so what you get are these pits. I was more self-conscious about the pits that were in my chest and how sunken and how hollowed out I looked in my face than I was about having a double mastectomy at 49. What Sculptra does is help fill in those pits in your skin—it’s a product that holds water and plumps you out. By the time Rosemarie left my house, I looked exactly like me again. I didn’t look like I had just gone through this huge bout.

NB: What advice would you give to women going through breast cancer?
SL: The advice I would give to women who are going through what I just went through is: Get several opinions, make your decision and stick with your decision unless you get better information. Be as aggressive as you can because you cannot negotiate with cancer. Keep your friends very close to you—real friends, not Hallmark cards. Friends that are going to be there whether you’re up or you’re down. It will be very clear very who those people are. Tell them what you need, and let them do it.