Chef and television personality Sandra Lee, who is the girlfriend of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said Tuesday that she has breast cancer.
Lee, 48, who went public with her story during an emotional interview with Robin Roberts on “Good Morning America,” said she received the diagnosis in late March, and has already had a lumpectomy.
Lee is preparing for a second surgery, and said doctors recommended a double mastectomy and radiation. “Both the radiologist and the doctor said, ‘You’re a ticking time bomb.’ And they both said ‘I would just get them both done.’”
“It was just a normal mammogram,” Lee said. “They recommend that women don’t even have their first mammogram until they’re 50. If I would have waited, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here,” Lee told Roberts.
Lee said she wants her story to encourage younger women to get mammograms earlier than the recommended age, which ranges from 40 to 50.
“They say there's an incredible amount of women in their 20s and 30s being diagnosed. They're telling these girls to wait until they're 50. I don't know who could do that in good conscience. What is your message? Girls have to know. Girls in their 20s and 30s, they have to know. I don't want women to wait. If it saves one person, makes one more person getting a mammogram. If they're at home watching this, don't watch this TV. Pick up the the phone and call your doctor and get your rear end in there and get a mammogram right now.”
But Mary Solomon, director of Project Renewal’s ScanVan that provides free breast cancer screening for women in New York City, said a mammogram might not be the best course of action for women under 40.
“This tool has limitations,” Solomon said, explaining that low-dose x-rays do a better job of detecting abnormalities in the fatty breast tissue of women over 40, not the dense breast tissue of younger women. “It concerns me that young women may get a false sense of security.”
Women with a family history of breast cancer should speak with their doctors about what age to start screening. A general rule is about 10 years before the woman’s family member developed breast cancer. Solomon said doctors might recommend an MRI or sonogram over a mammography in women in their 20s and 30s.
“What I want women to understand is that although there is always a risk of developing breast cancer, as we grow older it increases dramatically,” Solomon said.
Cuomo said in a statement after Lee’s announcement that he was “devastated” by her diagnosis and plans to take time off to help her recover.
“Sandy is young for her diagnosis, she has no family history, she is healthy and had no symptoms or signals that she was in danger. She has been diligent about going for check-ups and thankfully this was detected in the early stages,” Cuomo said.
“While she has kept her illness private until now, Sandy has bravely decided to speak openly about her illness in order to remind women of the potentially lifesaving power of early detection. I fully support her decision.”
In a statement, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he and First lady Chirlane McCray admired her stepping forward to share her story.