The Emmy Award-winning chef talks about the fear she felt after her diagnosis – and how she's determined to turn her battle into something positive

By Maria Yagoda and Elizabeth Sporkin
Updated May 13, 2015 10:00 AM
Credit: Jason Rothenberg

“On Saturday, I just stayed in bed all day long. I couldn’t get up,” Sandra Lee reveals in an exclusive PEOPLE Now video after receiving her breast cancer diagnosis. Well, she did leave the bed once, Lee remembers: She got up to research the disease on her iPad, though she promptly decided it was “too depressing” and slumped back into bed.

While assured enough to film this raw video diary of pre-surgery tests, Lee knows her emotions haven’t quite settled – it’s been only two-and-a-half weeks since her March 27 diagnosis – and her uncertainty shows on screen. Lee admits she “had a meltdown” in the cab to the doctor’s office, though she quickly switches to the positive, as if impulsively. “I have great girlfriends and they’ve been very supportive,” she says, her voice steady and calm.

The celebrity chef has built a vast cooking empire – books, kitchen products, an Emmy Award-winning TV show – and has no intention of slowing down in light of her DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) diagnosis. Not only does she plan to fight the disease (and win), but she’s also determined to flip her diagnosis from “something negative into something positive,” Lee tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview in this week’s issue.

That doesn’t mean Lee isn’t scared – quite the opposite. In her video diary, she opens up about what she fears most of all.

“What worries me about this is not what I’m going to go through – I’m going to be fine. We caught it early enough. What worries me is my sisters and my brothers – that they could get it and we don’t catch it in time,” Lee says, as she fills out forms in the doctor’s office. “I cannot tell you enough how important it is to get your mammograms.”

Lee’s decision to go public with her diagnosis and film a pre-surgery appointment was motivated by one simple goal: to spread the word about early detection and regular mammograms.

“I want to advocate for early detection,” Lee says in this week’s PEOPLE.

For more on Lee’s diagnosis, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday