Documentary follows TV-star chef through diagnosis and surgery
Sandra Lee wasn’t sure how she’d use it at the time, but she felt that filming her experience with breast cancer might prove useful.
The Emmy-winning celebrity chef now knows how: The HBO documentary “RX Early Detection: A Cancer Journey With Sandra Lee” premieres Monday, Oct. 8, detailing — in purposely concise fashion — her steps in receiving her diagnosis, seeking treatment and undergoing surgery. Also featured prominently is Lee’s life partner, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), whom she helped inspire to sign his state’s Get Screened, No Excuses legislation expanding people’s access to breast-cancer screenings.
It’s certainly no coincidence Lee’s “Cancer Journey” is being presented during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. ”The documentary came about because I couldn’t find the information I felt I needed anywhere,” she explains. “Everybody first goes online to see what other people experienced and how they digested it. I could find people who said, ’I had breast cancer and now I don’t, and I had reconstruction,’ but there was nothing in-between. And I really wanted to understand what that in-between looked like.
“When you’re making a big decision like getting a mastectomy, you want to understand what that procedure really looks and feels like,” adds Lee. “Also, it’s very difficult to have all the information sitting with one or two or even three doctors. Nobody, in an hour, can explain to you what you would want to know … even if you don’t realize you want it in that moment.”
Initially recording her health experiences “for my own reference,” Lee says, “We didn’t think we’d have enough to do that much with, but (the material ultimately covered) every single doctor’s appointment, every single test, all of the surgery, the post-surgical infection that happened, and Andrew changing the laws in the State of New York. I’d like to have a No Excuses bill presented, and a (related) law passed, in all states. Early detection is everything.”
Lee doesn’t mind being seen in relatively raw form in the documentary (which includes fellow cancer survivor Kathy Bates among its executive producers along with Lee). “This is no hair, no makeup, no frills, no fuss. It is what it is. It is reality, and that is what you need to see.”
Still a prominent Food Network personality (with her new “Haunted Gingerbread Showdown” starting a four-week run there Sunday, Oct. 7), Lee has been cancer-free since mid-2016. She hopes “A Cancer Journey” will be “not only a tool for you to use as a patient, but also for your family, to help them understand what you’re going through and what the process looks like. It’s something that I hope a lot of people watch, so that they can understand what that journey looked like for me and might look like for them.”