Sandra Lee Is 'So Grateful' After Italian Getaway with Boyfriend Ben Youcef for Her Birthday

Sandra Lee celebrated her 56th birthday in Lake Como, Italy — only four months after undergoing a hysterectomy

Sandra Lee
Photo: Backgrid

Sandra Lee's birthday trip was one for the books.

In honor of turning 56 on July 3, the lifestyle icon enjoyed a trip to Lake Como, Italy with boyfriend Ben Youcef — but Lee tells PEOPLE that as a cancer survivor, she was celebrating more than just her birthday.

"This past year has brought me so much… unbelievable happiness, stunning fear, absolute love and most importantly appreciation for life itself," says Lee. "Thank you God! As a cancer survivor, I look at life a lot differently than I used to and want to soak up as much of life as I can. Every moment of every day matters to me. Health, physical and mental, is my priority."

After having a hysterectomy in March — seven years after surviving breast cancer — Lee says that "this year represented the ending of one chapter and the beginning of another."

"I am no longer counting the years, but instead I am making the years count," she adds to PEOPLE. "I am so grateful for the moments I captured on this birthday and look forward to another year of health and happiness with the people that matter most."

Sandra Lee Celebrates Birthday with ‘Romantic’ Sunset Cruise and Kiss from Boyfriend Ben Youcef
Sandra Lee/Instagram

During their trip, Lee and Youcef rented a vintage Porsche Speedster (made in 1956 to commemorate her 56th birthday) to travel around Lake Como.

"Her biggest wish is for a lovely life ahead full of health and happiness," a source tells PEOPLE of Lee. "She is not taking for granted any moments going forward."

In an Instagram post from her birthday abroad, Lee told her followers of a stop at a "gorgeous little church" she made with Youcef in Torno, a neighboring town of Lake Como. Later that day, her close friends joined the couple for a firework display and an "incredible" birthday cake.

"My wish for all is a peaceful and lovely life ahead full of health and happiness. Time to go make some more memories!" she wrote in the caption.

PEOPLE confirmed that Lee and Youcef were dating back in August 2021. The two first met as friends at a Santa Monica restaurant months prior, and have been "inseparable" since getting together, a source said in November.

"It's almost like a first love for both of them," the insider added.

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